Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Writing Affair

One of my first memories of writing was in second grade. I had taken to writing my name with a lower case T. Like this: Sobrina tung. My teacher was all up in arms about it, reprimanding my inappropriate use of lower cases. But I just didn't see what the big deal was, especially since that was how my dad signed our last name on my field trip permission slips and on grocery store receipts. I once asked him why he didn't capitalize the T as we had learned to do in school. He said it looked much better uncapitalized, and after comparing a capitalized Tung and an uncapitalized tung, I had to agree. It did make for a finer signature.

My first memory of expository writing was sometime after this in elementary school. We learned the approach many students learned, the Sandwich approach. An essay could be viewed as a sandwich, with each of the essay's paragraphs corresponding to the different components of a common sandwich. The introduction and conclusion were the slices of bread holding everything together and the three paragraphs in between played the roles of the bologna (or ham or turkey if that was your preference), the lettuce and the tomato. If I didn't think about it too much, it would have made enough sense, but all too often I would get hung up on all the unanswered questions. What about the mustard? What would that be in the essay? What if I don't take tomato in my sandwiches? What if I decided that I'd like to have peanut butter and jelly and not a savory meat sandwich? This confusion lingered through junior high through high school and through to my freshmen year of college. I followed the sandwich approach and yet I had no idea what I was writing or what I should be writing about. I pictured crafting a paragraph of bread, then laying in my bologna, and after that I filled the rest of the sandwich with random musings behind the author's title choice, forgetting completely what I was trying to prove.

Freshmen year of college, two interesting things happened. First, I took an English class with Weiko Lin who taught me how to write. I don't know how else to put it because he really did. We wrote pages and pages on Malcolm X's first conk, on the loss of virility in American History X, on why most shoelaces are flat and not rounded pieces of string. After receiving our first assignment, we came back to the classroom and said, "But we don't have 8 pages worth of stuff to write about the conk." To which he said something good and wise, something like, "Yes, you do. Now go back and try." His point was that we needed to learn how to focus our writing, how to make a point, and for me, it worked.

The second thing that happened was that I started writing short blurbs (for lack of a better word) in my AIM profile. AIM was the lifeblood of the dorms, and I didn't know anyone who wasn't on it. I didn't know if anyone paid attention to my profile, but one day someone living on my floor told me that he checked my profile all the time, just to read my little blurbs. It was enthralling to have a reader, even if it was just one reading my insignificant profile blurbs. Eventually I moved out of the dorms and stopped using AIM and my blurb writing lied dormant. When graduation came, I tried figuring out a way to harness my blurb writing creativity into something I could do everyday. Preferably something that would still allow me to eat on a regular basis and to have a bed to sleep in. Because eating and sleeping in comfort are a few of my top priorities and finding any sort of job was trickier than I thought, I set aside any writing desire and took up a job in market research. My life became a life of Excel spreadsheets, SPSS data tabulations, calculators, surveys and PowerPoints.

Two years after that and after some heavy duty soul searching, my friend Jon said half joking that I'd be good at writing the blurbs on the sides of Vitamin Water labels. This set off a series of sparks in my head, ones that ultimately led to my conclusion that someone had to be writing those blurbs. And there weren't just blurbs on Vitamin Water labels, there were blurbs on everything. When I finally figured out these good people were known as copywriters, I made it my business to become one. Except that all open positions were looking for people with copywriting experience, of which I had none. I finally found a job posting that looked promising, so I whipped up a compelling cover letter, an improper one that I hoped would look at the hiring manager straight in the face and say, "I can do this. I can be non-traditional. I can be rock 'n roll. Please hire me. Oh, please." A month later I moved to Walnut Creek to get my blurb writing on and surprisingly I was still able to eat and sleep in a bed.

Now here I am, still writing blurbs at work (among other things) and writing, at times, long winded blurbs here. I recently found out about a newish online magazine called Content. It is "For and By the People of San Jose." It is one of the most beautiful magazines I've ever seen, and as someone who's always sticking up for San Jose, San Francisco's homely (to some unshapely) sister, I wanted to be a part of it. On Friday I went to a collaboration meeting and found I might have a whole lot more to learn about magazines and magazine writing. The two editing/writing types I met with talked about how much they despised Facebook, about how pretentious the track changes function in Word is, about Gonzo journalism. It made my head spin. Because although I don't live and die by Facebook, I don't think it is really any sort of evil. Actually, I had never given it much thought before. I also actually think track changes works fine for many of my intents and purposes. And who is Gonzo?

Watching the two go back and forth in lively conversation, I felt sort of like I was removed, on the other side of a window, the one looking in at a scene playing out on a stage. It sort of like that time Alan and I went to the hipster cafe in Santa Cruz. As we parked and walked up to the entrance, a man as tall as Alan but half the weight of me, walked out. He walked with purpose and gave off an air of accomplishment, as though he had just completed a substantial portion of his memoir detailing his 22 years of life. In his arms he carried a typewriter, an actual typewriter.

Listening to the two go on, I didn't want to disagree too much or to ask if Gonzo was a new character on Sesame Street, so I did my best to nod and look like I, too, hated track changes. But really, I was making mental notes to bring my typewriter to the next meeting. That should really impress them!

16 comments:

Daniella said...

On the subject of how you got started writing...any tips on how a fledgling blogger can even begin to build to the readership you have built up so far?

I would love to get more exposure, but I am not quite sure how to go about it.

Gotta go -- I am off to your homepage to tip the Followers ledger to 600!

Happy Sunday!

joeypouch said...

Please take a quill and wear it in a fedora. Brilliant.

Paulina said...

Great tale! I especially like the different memories of writing.....What if you prefer to write in an 'open-face sandwhich style? And, I agree a lower case t looks much better than the uppercase.

Cheers,
Paulina

CAM said...

LOL loved this....I distinctly remember one of my lecturers announcing to us at the end of the course "you've now learned the most enduring skill of university....you can crap on about nothing for a set amount of words...which is part of 96% of jobs out there" :D

Breenuh said...

I love the blurbs on Vitamin Water labels! And I love that you noticed/mentioned them.

Sobrina Tung said...

Joeypouch - LOL that is truly brilliant. I will definitely consider that.

Daniella - I'm not sure if I have the best answer for you but for what it's worth, here are just a few things I've noticed about blogs I like and successful blogs: I think it's important to post regularly. I also appreciate blogs with pics so I can see who I'm reading about or who is writing. Having an About page to provide context about what the blog/who the blog is about is also another important piece. A blogroll is also important and building up a sense of community by reading/ commenting on others' blogs as well. I like your blog; keep it coming :)

Kyrie said...

Sobrina, I couldn't help but read your comment to Daniella, but thank you for saying that because I'm just as curious as her.

I've written alot, but didn't decide to get serious until now. I'll definately try to get a blogroll going soon or in my next layout design, and your blog is definately going to be on it!

Sobrina Tung said...

Kyrie, thanks and good luck! :) I think keeping up a blog is a lot harder than some non-bloggers might think, but I find it to be really fun. Just keep at it and try to squeeze time in to post regularly. If I think of any more helpful tips, I will let you know!

2busy said...

Congratulations on following your dreams.

Cham said...

I don't know about Sesame Street, but there's a Gonzo muppet! He's got a long hook nose and he is blue. And has a muppet voice. I wouldn't recommend impersonating him at your next meeting. This would not be impressive.

Sobrina Tung said...

I knew Gonzo sounded familiar!

Thrup'ny bits said...

I just love the last paragraph I was laughing out loud. I would agree keeping a blog is difficult to do well. The only time I've managed to post every day was when I was visiting England . . . and that still needs rewriting.

daughter of pan said...

Although you may have been a little sarcastic about the whole "Gonzo" journalism thing, I'd thought I'd throw in that Gonzo is the moniker for Hunter S. Thompson who wrote for the Rolling Stone in the 60's and 70's. He's pretty much best known for Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.
He did a TON of drugs and wrote totally unconventionally for his time.

Anyway. You might know all of this already, in which case I feel dumb explaining it. But I really enjoy your writing and your stories. And your blurbs.

Erin P said...

You really are a very good writer; you focus and transmit real feelings through your words, which takes talent. I read your posts regularly and aspire to write as well as you do!

Betty Man said...

I liked very much the whole idea
I put your blog on my blog list of recommended blogs. I'd like to follow me on:cutand-dry.blogspot.com
Something to ask, because I'm new blogger.: How you centralize the lezanda of your photos?? I mean a lezanda of three wordw is just in the middle of the picture.
Have a nice day!
All the best
Betty

Sobrina Tung said...

daughter of pan - I actually did know just a little bit of that because when I got home that night I had this thought. This "Heyyy, they weren't talking about Sesame Street!" thought and so I googled it. BUT I did not know that the Gonz wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so your explanation was not wasted at all. Now I can bring that point up at the next meeting and some cool points. :)

Erin P - Thank you!!

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