Working so hard to get this

Manuscript out into the world. I’ve submitted to about 15 small presses. Tupelo Press editor gave me some awesome feedback.

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Working on a new(ish) essay about international adoption

I’m working on a new introduction to some old material from about five years ago. My sister Katie, adopted from South Korea in 1981 through the Holt agency, and I visited Korea in 2013 and the orphanage she was adopted from. When we arrived the retired director of the orphanage, Jane White, told us the orphanage, Jecheon Children’s Home, was under investigation for physical abuse as well as underfeeding children. After several years of research I’ve learned that it is possibly the most corrupt orphanage in South Korea.

I wrote about the experience and published a blog many years ago about our visit but left out the details of the investigation because I was asked to keep it under wraps by the retired director, Jane White. I didn’t know how I felt about that – especially since I was a victim of all types of abuse, including physical, when I was a young child. I did as directed because I felt like I needed to just “sit” with the information. Today, you can google “Jecheon Children’s Home” and you will find all kinds of material both good and bad about it, in both English and Korean.

This is the intro to the revisited essay. It’s not ready for prime time yet:

My mom and I have been always alike: slightly OCD, argumentative and, even though her skin is more olive and mine pale, our cheeks will get rosy after arguing, running five miles, or crying during a movie. The day that Katie arrived on the plane my mom’s cheeks were rosy.  

Katie was adopted from South Korea, when I was four, and she was 8 months old. Growing up we fought over Barbies and baby dolls, and all of them were white.

Katie had a special Korean doll that was made of white cotton and had black yarn for hair. It wore a bright pink and yellow Hanbok, the formal dress for Korean girls and women and we never really played with the doll because it was for decoration. It was mixed in with our Barbies and other dolls in our bedroom, but we always made sure it was clean and not messy. We never brought drinks or food around it because there would be hell to pay if we got it dirty.

The agency Katie was adopted from had said it was a closed adoption, so I didn’t think too much about it. It was the 80’s and interracial adoption, especially from a country like Korea, was very common. None of the details of my sister’s adoption were available and Mom and I just left it at that. Katie was in our family now although if we went out to restaurants sometimes other families would look at us.

The Hanbok doll came with Mom, Katie and I wherever we were living after our parents divorce when I was six and Katie was two.

For three summers, Katie went to a sleep away camp for Korean adoptees and during the camp, she got to meet the founder of the HOLT adoption agency, Bertha Holt, a white woman, who wore a Hanbok. Cultural appropriation wasn’t a term in 1989. Katie learned about Korean food and culture and eventually became a camp counselor when she was 15.

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Before I even started

working on my recently completed manuscript “The Book of Kelly,” eight years ago, I started reading memoirs like they were going out of style. I couldn’t explain it. I read “Liars Club,” by Mary Karr, as well as “Cherry” and “Lit” (just to name a few). I just knew that like reality tv shows, which I also watched obsessively, there was a draw to reading them. When I started writing, it made complete sense that I was reading memoir like a maniac and subconsciously doing something to help move the writing process along.

Flash forward to last year, after my break up with my ex, I needed something to really focus my energy on – so I did something that I had been thinking about doing for years: buying a rental property.  I threw myself into working with my accountant to get my taxes together, finding a mortgage broker and a realtor team, to help make locate a rental property. I spent six weeks aggressively looking at properties and making offers that fell through or I was outbid. I finally found a property, bid on it and won.

After the homebuying process was over, I had some renovations to do around the property, so I found someone to work on ripping out old carpet, taking wallpaper out of a bedroom, painting and taking down an oddly constructed room in the garage that the previous owner had built.  I also had to interview and locate a property management company since I didn’t want to handle the day-to-day operations of a rental.  From start to finish, I spent five and a half months working on the project.  I loved every minute of it and decided to start planning on buying a second rental (in due time).

I took a minute to breath and then was off to Portugal for a few weeks.  When I came back from Portugal, something changed: I didn’t feel like I had to take on another giant project.  Buying the rental property had served a purpose and filled a need.

My job got very busy and I placed a bunch of clients into jobs right before summer began.  I took some time off from my writing workshop group where every week like church, I brought seven pages, read them aloud and received feedback on my writing. I was off and running, making sure my clients had everything in place: work uniforms, schedules, knew their job duties, how to clock-in to the time clock, etc. Once again, there was something to fill the void even though I was learning to live without it being filled.

I found an outdoor patio set around the fourth of July for half price.  I purchased it and spent the holiday weekend reading on my new outdoor sofa. My cats came outside with me and we spent the sunny afternoons reading and laying around.  Work slowed down a little bit and once again there was some room to just relax.  The rest of the summer was like that: reading, riding my bike, and going to Powells or Broadway books to buy books.    Sometimes I read 2 or 3 in a week.  I started reading historical comic books and graphic memoirs.  I read personal essay collections that were sort of like memoirs. I didn’t want the summer to end: it was the first time in a long time when I was just relaxed.  I didn’t run around trying to “do.”  I blended into the sofa cushion.

I went to Maine with my mom and stopped in bookstores in Portland and Freeport. I purchased 4 or 5 memoirs at a time. I continued reading at our airbnb’s or VRBO’s. I took a side trip to Boston and stopped at the Harvard Co-op in Cambridge and bought more books. I read in my hotel room after walking 10 miles around Boston.

While I was reading voraciously, I felt something changing – happening – within me. “I think I’m getting ready to write a follow – up to the completed manuscript but I don’t know what shape it will take or even what I’ll write about.” That thought kept running through my head.  I told my mom about it on our trip.  I told friends that I visited in Rockland, Maine about it. I told my maternal cousins about it during a mini-family gathering in Massachusetts. “I don’t know what the manuscript is going to be about yet, but I know it’s brewing,”  I told them.

I came back from my New England trip and threw myself begrudgingly into a licensing certification for my job. I thought about buying another rental property. I started thinking about anything but that stupid, boring certification. I put buying more rental property on the back burner.  I read some more in my downtime.

With the certification almost done I went back to the east coast – this time to New York to see friends. I went to Greenlight Books in Greenpoint, the Strand in lower Manhattan, Shakespeare and Co in mid-town, and McNally Rand in Williamsburg. I read six books in two weeks – mostly sitting on park benches in Riverside Park, Fort Greene, and Central Park for hours at a time.  My outdoor sofa set not available, I settled on park benches.  I watched the leaves change, runners, bikers and kids with families. I checked my phone, but mostly I read. This time, I found myself reading mostly, personal essay collections.

I had a lightbulb moment and decided I probably would be working on a personal essay collection as a follow-up to my completed manuscript. I came back from all the park benches in New York and re-joined my writers group – this time, I brought personal essays.  All seven pages of them, like clock work.

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Alien travel

Australia

I arrive at Pdx and try to check in. I have everything ready: my carry on, checked bag and passport that doesn’t expire for 2 years. First I’ll fly to Los Angeles and then onward to Sydney.  The Delta agent tells me I need to have a visa. I silently freak out in my head and the muscles on my face are loose from fatigue. I find a seat near the check in counter and submit an 18 page visa application on my phone that I didn’t know I needed to submit. I check my inbox over and over and over for results. My flight to Sydney is in 6 hours and I don’t know what I will do if it’s not approved.  I go through security.

PDX is deserted and I find a seat in concourse d in a nearly empty seating area.  A bunch of young workers plop down twenty feet from me.  Annoying people flock to me like shit. A workers radio squeals and echoes as they laugh. I decide it’s time to move.  I move away to another deserted area near the Starbucks. It’s quiet.

On the plane from Pdx to Los Angeles I pay 8 bazillion dollars for shitty WIFI.  My approval is granted for the visa.  I’m relieved and scared at the same time. I’m not as scared as when I went to Stockholm by myself on my first international flight a few years ago that scared me. On the flight from JFK to Stockholm I sat next to a woman from Quebec City who was super friendly and told me where to go in Stockholm. We chatted for a few hours and in the middle of the night a Middle Aged man shushed us.

When I travel I feel like an alien on a space ship. Time is warped. There are generally airplanes everywhere and radios and cars driving on the Tarmac. Years ago my sister and I travelled to Korea.  When we landed in Seoul it felt completely bizarre seeing planes that looked familiar but had different logos. It was hot and humid when we got off the plane. Sweat ran down my leg while my sister and stood in line at customs.

The flight to Sydney is 13.5 hours and I barely sleep. Maybe 20 minutes. We land and I’m a hot sweaty mess in customs just like in Korea. Yoga pants, long sleeve shirt and plaid flannel over my shirt – too many layers. It’s long lines for customs and me nervous that somehow my visa wasn’t processed correctly.  It’s fine.  My passport is stamped and it’s off I go to pick up my luggage.

A drug sniffing dog inspects my bags before I leave the terminal.  It’s a black lab and responds to treats.  I want to pet it but I know I can’t just like the dogs that assist my blind clients.

I find my way to my Airbnb with out getting lost on the train and 10 minutes of walking. The airbnb is 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and common area. It’s nice but not fancy. I set my stuff down and realize there are two dogs in the backyard waiting for me to let them in. They are bichon frises and the boy dog is bigger with blue collar. The girl dog is smaller and a little more high strung with pink collar.  I let them in and I’m down on the ground playing.  They wiggle between me and my legs and wind their way around my back.
“You guys stink,” they both have brown hot spots on their backs and paws.  I sniff the brown spots but realize it’s me that stinks after 28 hours of traveling.  I shower and collapse into bed for a 3 hour nap.

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Writing luxuries

I’ve been feeling a bit lost with my writing. I need to pitch my work in progress, The Book of Kelly, to more agents but at the same time I feel called to work on the follow up untitled manuscript. I sent my query letter off to a well respected query letter editor and she sent back some changes. I’m excited to carve out some time to attack it and resend to more agents.

Being stuck is a luxury problem especially at this point in the game. I’ve spent years balancing writing it and working my paid job but I’m also ready for it to bring in some dividends.

I might be looking into an MFA program as well in creative writing. I don’t really need the degree but I feel like it’s something I would like to have. I also think it might help me with the follow up manuscript. I’ve been in workshop groups fairly solidly since 2010 but I also feel pulled in another direction. Part of me feels like I’m ready to move beyond them.

There’s a lot up in the air right now.

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Extra strong

On vacation in Manzanita you go to sleep before everyone else at 9 Pm. Your sister and brother in law watch a movie. You hear the sounds from the tv before you fall asleep. You wake up at 5:45 am and the house is quiet. You make coffee, just like at home and make it extra strong.

Like jet fuel your ex always said. Your coffee tastes like jet fuel.

You hover over tax deductions at your computer so you can get your taxes done and work on purchasing a second rental property in September. You yawn and drink a second, third and start on a fourth but never finish it cup of coffee.

Taxes done you start in on the book you bought 17 hours ago. You are 167 pages into it. Even on vacation you achieve.

This inner drive to achieve has been there since you started your business in 2005. You never wanted to work for anyone but yourself so you work and work and work do you don’t have to work at a corporation or small business that’s not yours.

But it’s more than that.

You need to be the best at whatever you do-read the most books, write best manuscript, place the most clients. The voice in your head tells you that even if you are tired.

Your six year old niece wakes up and comes into your room.

“Good morning!” She announces in her pink nightgown with what you think are eyes and long eyelashes all over it.

You don’t care about make up to succeed. That’s the stuff of marketing and getting insecure women to buy make up to feel good about themselves.

Last week in the mail a doctor that advertises face lifts on the radio sent you a piece of mail about tummy tucks. You got your black Sharpy out and wrote “fuck your fascist beauty standards,” crossed your name and address off and wrote return to sender on it.

On the way to your first client you dropped it in the mailbox anonymously at your local post office.

Your niece doesn’t care about my accomplishments. She wants to beat you at candy land.

“Cheaters never win,” I say in a sing song voice while she “shuffles the cards” in secret. Somehow Queen Frostina is always the card she seems to draw.

I let her win.

I’ve resigned myself to not being the winner in board or card games. I get to be human for a change.

Relate-able.

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The things I overlooked

I’m about to hand off another finished (and hopefully….hopefully) final draft to my editor in a week or so. This morning I dug out what might be the follow up manuscript. It’s 330 pages of mostly material about dating. I haven’t opened it in nearly two years. I remembered it as not that great but in actuality it’s not terrible. It’s workable. Case in point-this excerpt:

I went on a date with a guy from Tinder.  Alex.  He was 7 or 8 years older, 6’4, a little heavy set but cute.  He owned a bike shop in N. Portland.  I didn’t know what to do with myself after Brandon broke up with me.  I was sad and trying to move on.  Dating seemed to be the next course of action to get over my sadness.

We met at Hungry Heart for coffee and a walk around Montavilla.  I got there early and ordered an Americano and an apricot scone.  I was nervous and paced around the tiny shop.  I grabbed a lid for when my Americano came up on the counter.  I found a Portland Mercury.  I was back to this internet dating again. Meeting some dude from Tinder or OkCupid at a coffee shop for a date that I was hoping would lead somewhere but didn’t really know.  Not one of my many dates had ever worked from Internet dating. I set the Portland Mercury on a table and flipped through the pages.  I looked around to see if I recognized him walking up.

“Small Americano to go,” the barista shouted.

“Thank you,” I walked up to the counter.

“Kelly?” Someone said from behind me.

I turned around.  It was Alex.

“Oh hi,” I held the cup in my hands.

“I’m Alex,” he reached his hand out.  “I’m going to get a latte.  Be right back.”

“Ok,” I walked back over to the Mercury and flipped through the pages.  I looked through it but I couldn’t tell you what I saw. I was too nervous.

Alex and I walked around Montavilla and I tried to focus on him because he was the new frontier.  Brandon didn’t want to be with me anymore.  It was time to move on.

“I was always the fat kid growing up,” Alex took a sip of his latte.

“Oh really?” I wondered if Brandon would see me with Alex?  I looked for his green hamster car.  His Surly bike.

“I have type I diabetes now as a result of not having good diet when I was a kid,”

“Oh what do you have to do to manage that?” I liked learning about new disabilities since it was what I did for my day job; except I worked mostly with adults with cognitive disabilities and autism.

“I have to watch what I eat and check my blood sugar a few times a day,”

Could I live with someone with type I diabetes?  Yes.  I was adaptable.  This wasn’t going to be difficult.  I had learned to deal with Brandon and his chronic lateness.  I was flexible. That’s what dating had taught me: I can adapt.  I may think I can’t but I can.

It was a nice day and we found a garage sale. He found an old board game for $1.

“We should hang out again,” he said at the end.

“Definitely,” I said. “I’ll text you.”

Alex and I met a few days later at Roost on Belmont Street.  When I got there he was about halfway through a bourbon on the rocks.  I knew the smell and color of bourbon even if I hadn’t had a drink in 15 years. Alex seemed distracted and focused on the menu instead of me.  Our server came up to the table.

“Would you like anything to drink?” He asked me.

Alex drained the bourbon.

“I’m fine with water,” I tried not to be distracted by his focus on the bourbon and not me.

“I’ll take a second bourbon on the rocks,” he set the glass down and the ice clinked.

“How was your day?”  I had only been there a few minutes and already he was on his second drink.

I ignored it.

“Oh it was alright,” he seemed bored now.  “It’s just still really slow right now.  Give it a few more weeks and it will be crazy.  The bike repair business is so seasonal.”

“It’s hard when it’s so slow, right?”

“Yeah.  I should come up with a marketing plan to bring more business in but I just don’t have the drive anymore.  It’s different when your business has been around for 17 years.”

My business didn’t really have slow or busy times.  There was always work to be had and I didn’t have to do marketing anymore. People just knew me and sent clients my way.  If anything I had too many clients.  It had been like that for years.  I liked staying busy and the fear of work running out as a self employed person was always lurking in the background.  I never turned down clients fearing they were going to be my last.

The waiter brought me a water and Alex his bourbon on the rocks.

“What looks good to you?” He took a sip of the bourbon.  The ice clinked in the glass again.

“I think I’m going to get the steak and fries,” I loved steak and fries. I didn’t cook at home but if a restaurant had them on the menu I was sure as hell gonna order it.

“I’m going to get the pork chop,” he took another sip of the bourbon.  Actually, no, he took a big swallow.

The waiter came back and took our order.

“Oh I’m getting a little bit shaky and tired,” he picked the boubon up and then back down. “Hold on.  I need to give myself some insulin.”

“Ok,” I didn’t know what was happening.  He seemed to have it under control.

He fidgeted with a little black bag on the chair next to him.  The restaurant was busy but not terribly so.  I looked around.  The waiters didn’t seem to notice him sticking a needle in a glass bottle and turning it upside down.  I did.  I wondered why he was doing it at the table and not excusing himself to go the bathroom.  The people at neighboring tables didn’t seem to notice.

He lifted his shirt up a little bit and I looked away.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the needle.  It was going into his abdomen.  I couldn’t watch myself getting a shot or other people.  It was too traumatic.

“Ok,” he put his shirt down.  “I should be better in a few minutes here.”

“What does it feel like when you go into shock?” I was genuinely curious again.  I wanted to know since I worked with people with autism and not diabetes.

“It just makes me feel really tired,” he put the glass bottle and needle back in the black case and zipped them up.

Our food came, he finished his second bourbon shortly after and paid for dinner.  Even though he had stabbed himself with a needle that didn’t stop me from wanting a connection with him. I was willing to overlook it if he was going to help me get over Brandon.  The loss of another doomed relationship.  It was just another thing I was willing to overlook.  I could roll with the punches and date someone diabetic.  I could learn something along the way.

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