All posts by Susan Wong

The Smoke is Clearing

After our last class, I have a much clearer picture of what I need to do and where I am headed. Dr. Zamora said to just work on my memoir vignettes and see what themes emerge, and from these themes, the research will flow. No need to worry about a research question. I think the lack of a precise question was what was bothering me all along and now knowing that I shouldn’t even think about that at this time is really letting my ideas flow. I feel as though a massive weight has been lifted from me. 

I am my own worst enemy at times. My all or nothing attitude is hindering my creativity and causing all kinds of anxiety. I just need to let go and not get stuck on technical matters or worry about what I think Dr. Zamora is looking for or how much more creative and sophisticated everyone else’s projects are compared to mine. And boy are they awesome! I tell my kids not to compare themselves to others, but I find myself doing that all the time. I’ve really got to practice  what I preach. 

I don’t need to have this thesis completely planned out before I start. Over-planning and micromanaging are the story of my life. I can’t help it though. I have a finance background, 3 kids, and a house that constantly needs repairs. I don’t want to treat this thesis as another obligation or just something I just have to get through. I want this endeavor to be meaningful. I understand now that it is a process that will unfold slowly, and I will try my best to allow it to take me to new and interesting places. I’m hoping for a serendipitous experience as well as a creative and academic one.  

A few days ago, I read a NYTimes article about how Chinese male immigrants were treated during the gold rush out west. It was very sad but interesting. I want my research to shed light on how different immigrant groups were received in this country. Of course, there is a wealth of information and research out there for anyone interested in really knowing about the immigrant experience, but most of those stories and articles tell a sad tale. My research will spotlight many of the struggles Chinese immigrants faced when they first arrived in America, and our ongoing struggles as well, but in my memoirs, I would like to show the changing times and slow acceptance of a vibrant culture. 

Writer’s Block

I can’t believe that I am at the finish line. This degree has been ten years in the making, and yes, there have been many twists and turns, roadblocks and detours. But I’m so close and just need some more clarity, organization, and inspiration to get me through this enormous, final hurdle. 

Over the summer, I thought long and hard about my thesis, and it gave me a great deal of anxiety. I just couldn’t narrow down my ideas into something cohesive. I had started research on the role of grandparents in Chinese immigrant families in Dr. Nelson’s class, but throughout the semester I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this topic, and I knew all along that my research question was flawed. I actually wanted to focus on some aspect of memoir, but just couldn’t figure out the research question and didn’t think it was scholarly enough to base my thesis on. 

But now, with the creative freedom Dr Zamora is allowing us, I think I can combine the two. 

I enrolled in this master’s program because I saw memoir as an elective and fortunately it was offered when I needed it. It may not be in the curriculum again for quite some time. It was so interesting, and I learned so much. For years, I had been dabbling in writing memoir essays, but didn’t really know anything about the mechanics behind it. All I wanted to do was get my stories on paper before I forgot them all, but after taking the class, I realized there were so many elements necessary in making it interesting to others. I have heavily edited some of my old stories and will need to write some new ones.

So, for now, I think my thesis project will be twofold. 

Part 1 – an exploration into memoir writing, focusing on the following:

  • Why do people write memoir? What is the psychology behind it?
  • What makes a memoir compelling?
  • The different types of memoirs
  • Mechanics behind memoir writing

 I would like to document what I learned about the process in order to help others get their stories out. This part is mostly research, but I would also like to call attention to some passages from my favorite memoirs and why they resonate with me.

Part 2-

First idea:

With all this newfound knowledge about memoir, it’s only fitting that I should write my own. No more dabbling. This is the real deal. My stories will be a culmination of everything I learned about the genre, with the central theme of being raised by a Chinese immigrant grandfather. 

Second idea:

Over the summer, I read Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” and loved it. I’m not a fan of science fiction, so I was never drawn to any of Bradbury’s books, but I found this copy for $2  and I really liked the cover (yes, I often judge a book by it’s cover, and I’m not ashamed to admit it). It’s a semi-autobiographical story of a memorable summer from Bradbury’s childhood. It made me think of my own childhood and the people and events that made it so special. I’m big on nostalgia and slice of life stories, so I thought maybe I could write about different family members and how they influenced and shaped my life. If I do this, then I will be writing about other family members as well, not just my grandfather.

At this point, I don’t know how to bring this all together. I would like to write an anthology of short memoirs, but I don’t know what the theme will be or how to go about the research for these ideas. Also, I don’t think I can write enough stories, quality ones anyway, by next May. Can a thesis be a work in progress? Do I actually have to write the entire collection to fulfill my thesis? How will I come up with all these stories? I’ve never been able to write on demand. Sometimes it takes months for me to develop a story, even a very short one.

I need help!