Tag Archives: Thesis Blog

Done (sort of)

I finished editing all five of my stories this week. I’ve officially put an end to the comma chasing, so there’s no other reason to touch them. I also wrote my introduction which ties together the research and the stories, as well as provides some background information about my family that will help readers understand the stories better. It’s part ethnography and part preface, and really makes this project come together as a thesis. I also wrote my dedication page, so I am done with the content. Unless I’m overlooking something, I don’t think I have any more writing to do. 

Now comes the hard part. Although I have come a long way with computers, I am still not as tech savvy as I had hoped to be. I am trying to create a website (webpage?) for my project, but I am having so much difficulty just getting started. I will keep watching YouTube tutorials for help, but I think I need human assistance more than anything else. 

Sun, I am so in awe of your brilliance and passion for learning. You must be the hardest working person I know. It shows in everything you do and say. Your project is so interesting and creative, and I can’t wait to see the final product. Thanks for that wonderful presentation!

A good week

Last weekend, my son came home for a visit and gave me and his sisters his cold. I haven’t had a cold in years and had forgotten what a sore throat and head congestion feels like. Well, now I am completely up to speed. I haven’t slept for the past 3 nights and was worried I had covid, but the test came out negative, and just today, I’m starting to feel better.

Jessie, I love your story! I can’t wait to read the whole thing, but that is an indulgence that will have to wait until I’m done with my own thesis. You are so talented and passionate about your writing. I know this is only the beginning for you. What an exciting time in your life. I hope you keep writing and never lose your enthusiasm for storytelling. Thanks to your incredible presentation I felt so inspired to move ahead with my introduction. I’ve written about a third of it, but I seem to be losing steam, which means time to get some sleep and recharge.

Well, I’m doing it again. I keep saying I’m done with my stories, but I did some more editing. I stumbled on some YouTube videos about polishing your writing skills and words you shouldn’t use in your stories. Normally, I don’t like rules, but I was intrigued. So, I watched the videos and here is a list of the words that should be avoided:

That, see, look, hear, know, realize, wonder, decide, notice, feel, remember, think, of, really, very, adverbs (ly), down/up, then start, begin, sudden, the

Some of these words I get because they contribute to telling instead of showing. But my stories contain many of the words on this list, and I think they are necessary. Maybe these people are just writing snobs, but I did reread my stories and decided to take out the word “that,” whenever it wasn’t necessary and agree I had used it too many times. I try not to use “realize” but “wonder” I can’t avoid because I’m telling my stories from a child’s perspective and think it’s perfectly fine. I mean, what kid doesn’t wonder about things. Anyway, it was a helpful video even though a bit harsh. 

Good luck Sun! I’m so looking forward to your presentation and know I’m going to learn so much on Monday. 

So close

I am so relieved that my presentation is over. I agonized over what to say and how to present this project that is becoming more intimate and precious to me the closer I get to the end. How do I encapsulate my research, my findings, my feelings, my stories in such a short amount of time? But I must have done a good job judging from the warm praise and thoughtful feedback from all of you. I just read Teethee’s and Jessie’s blogs and am truly moved by your kind words. I am so happy that my stories elicited so many memories and emotions from you. This is what memoir is all about—universal themes that relate to the readers. And to Diana, a special thanks for all the editing. I can tell that you are a great teacher, so detail oriented and encouraging. 

I have finished editing all my stories, well sort of, because I know that with each subsequent read through, I will keep tweaking small things, but I am pretty much done. I have nothing major to add and am quite satisfied with the result. Dr. Zamora said that for the purpose of my thesis I could just stick to the stories about my grandfather and leave all the other stories about other family members for a collection that I could keep working on and eventually self-publish. I did spend quite a bit of time working on stories about my father as well, but I will save those for the future. Well, who knows, maybe I’ll include them also. I still have time to decide. But for now, I love this idea. It makes my thesis more cohesive and understandable. My research traced the male immigrant experience from the gold rush in California to the 1960’s in NYC, ending with the role of grandfathers in Chinese immigrant families. I’m so excited because it is all coming together like Dr. Zamora assured me it would.

Now, with the research and memoirs out of the way, I can entirely devote the next few weeks to my introduction or preface. This will be a challenging task, as it will serve to bridge the gap between my research and my stories. I am planning to write an autoethnography of sorts. I want to concentrate on why I chose this topic, what I learned about my culture, and most importantly, how memoir-writing has helped me better understand the man who raised me. I only knew and remember my grandfather as an old man, but now I can imagine what his life was like as a young man coming to America during the Chinese Exclusion Act.

I have my work cut out for me, but I am taking a break for the next few days because my son is coming home to celebrate his birthday. I haven’t seen him in over 2 months and miss him terribly. This is why I am posting early. I mentioned in class that in order to indulge in something fun on the weekends, like my gardening videos, I must do a good amount of work during the week. Well, now I am all ready for this weekend.

Good luck Jessie! Can’t wait to see your presentation on Monday. Please do a reading.

The well has run dry

I spent most of these past 2 weeks working on a new story, but I just can’t get it to come together. I’ve done everything to prime the pump—long walks, exercising, looking at old pictures, talking to my sisters, reading other people’s memoirs—with no success. I am really stuck and feel like I don’t have enough material for a substantial collection, but maybe this is a sign from above that I need to move on. So, for now I’m done writing new stories and just concentrating on finishing up all the mostly done ones, but this has proved very time consuming. Every time I think I’m done with one, I keep finding things that bother me, mostly grammatical errors and syntax. I could keep rereading and editing forever, but I’ve decided that I have one more week to edit ALL of my stories, and that’s it.

Now for the introduction, I haven’t written anything down yet, but I have been mulling over ideas in my head. I need to give this some serious thought because the intro must tie the research and my stories together. This will not be easy as I feel there is a large gap. However, I will make it work. 

I just got Jessie’s book and am so excited and inspired to self-publish my own stories, but that’s not something I’m even seriously considering at the moment. Things are moving too quickly for me. Seems like just yesterday I was dabbling in memoir writing and now suddenly, I’m about to complete a thesis and get a master’s degree. This all feels like a dream—a good one.

Please check your email for my presentation.

Gratitude

I had a very productive week, editing older essays and even starting a new one. My sister read over the stories and noticed that there wasn’t one about my grandfather’s love of cooking. I agreed with her and couldn’t believe I had overlooked the biggest part of my time with him. How could I put together a collection of memoirs without mentioning what he was best known for in my family? It seems ridiculous, but sometimes I do overlook the obvious. That’s why it’s good to have support from people who know you best when writing your memoir. My sister, who I mention often in all my stories, pointed out many things I left out or events I should describe more in detail. Writing my stories has shown me how blessed I am to have such a wonderful, supportive family. 

I find that I am most productive between the hours of 11pm and 2am. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s because I need dead silence to think and do quality work.  Whatever the reason, I’m fine with it and grateful that as I approach my writing time, I get filled with ideas and inspiration. However, since I’m up so late and automatically wake at 7:30am, I’m not getting enough sleep and find myself tired all day, frequently needing naps in the afternoon. I did this for 3 nights straight this week and decided that I wouldn’t do any writing over the weekend. Instead, I went to Chinatown on Saturday to visit my mother and celebrate a late Chinese New Year. I didn’t know that a parade and festivities would be taking place all afternoon. I was lucky enough to catch the lion and dragon snaking down Mulberry Street. I saw many young children with parents and grandparents watching the parade and throwing little noisemakers on the ground. It was heartwarming and brought back many wonderful memories of my grandfather taking me to Chinatown to see the dancing dragon on Chinese New Year, and this was inspiration to include a story I had written many years ago about this event. I may edit the piece and include it in my collection if time permits. 

When I first started my thesis, I didn’t know what to write about. My writer’s block was at an all time high, but now it seems I have too much to write. Nevertheless, I am giving myself a deadline of three more weeks to finish and edit all of my stories so that I can begin my introduction. The stories will determine what I write in my introduction so I need to complete them soon in order to have plenty of time to write and edit the intro. The intro will also serve to bridge the gap between research and my stories. Hopefully, by the end of March I will be finished with all the text so that I can figure out how to present my thesis. I plan on creating a website and making a hardcopy of my collection. But I can’t think about this yet because I don’t want to be overwhelmed by all the technology this will require. I need to concentrate, stay focused, and take one day at a time. Slow and steady wins the race.

Sweet Inspiration

I heard a song the other day that brought back a memory of going to the cemetery with my little sister and grandfather. I watched the video on YouTube several times and each time, the events of that day became more poignant. It helped me write my next memoir. 

I love when a song, object, or commercial triggers a memory that leads to a new story.  When I say I can’t write on demand, I truly mean it. This is why I never considered myself a writer. I just didn’t have the gift of putting words together meaningfully in a specified period of time. This predicament gave me anxiety about writing since I first put pencil to paper.

But since I started the master’s program at Kean, I’ve begun to feel a shift in me. I am becoming a more confident writer, and now there is an urgency to get my stories out. I started writing my memoirs because I wanted to leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren, but now I want to use my stories to help educate others about the Chinese immigrant experience and to show that no matter what your station in life, you can teach important lessons to your children and be an inspiration to future generations. 

These are the stories I am working on. They all honor the laundrymen who raised me. Some of them I consider finished, although every time I reread them, I make minor changes. I expect to be doing this right up until the time I submit them. The others are still in draft form, but I am working feverishly to complete them.

  • A Member of the Club – story about grandfather and the 21 Club. I read this in class last     semester.
  • Magic Tea – Grampa loved tea and taught me everything I know about it.
  • The Abacist – Story about my father and his amazing abacus.
  • My Father’s First Tony Award – Story about my actress neighbor and her Tony nomination and my father’s reaction to it.
  • The Ride of My Life – Story about the excitement of going to Coney Island for the very    first time and the events leading up to it.
  • In Loving Memory – Highlights Chinese funeral traditions and a surprised outing to the cemetery.  

I will be reading one of these during my presentation on February 28th.

Keeping my nose to the grindstone

I’m excited but sad also to be starting my final semester at Kean. Last September, I was so overwhelmed by the research process. I didn’t know where to begin, and for weeks I kept changing my mind about what I wanted to concentrate on and what my line of inquiry would be. But I did decide to delve into the Chinese immigrant experience and how Chinese men came to dominant the hand laundry business in America. It was all very interesting and gave me much insight into the dynamics in my own family. I know I will continue to do more research as needed and refine my lit review in the coming months, as it is a living document, but I would like to consider it basically done for now so I can devote all my energy on writing more memoirs. As I have mentioned previously, my aging brain is no longer good at multi-tasking, so I really do need to move away from the research and take a deep dive into my stories or I will never get done. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much writing as I had hoped to during the break. Two of my children had covid and I spent a lot of time disinfecting, cooking, cleaning, and just trying to avoid getting sick. My mind was elsewhere, and when I was certain that we were covid free, I decided we needed to get out of the house for a few days. We ended up going to DC for 5 days. I especially wanted to visit the American history museum to see Julia Child’s kitchen and the Chinese immigrant exhibit. They did a very thorough job of recreating Julia’s kitchen. The amount of space devoted to the history of American food was quite impressive. After seeing this, I thought for sure the Chinese exhibit would be equally extensive. I purposely waited until the very end to see it figuring I’d save the best for last. Boy, was I disappointed! There were only a few newspaper articles documenting the Chinese immigrant experience. I literally stood in one place to see the entire exhibit. I couldn’t believe how little information there was considering how much I uncovered in my own research. 

The Smithsonian does not consider the experiences and the contributions of the Chinese to be part of American history. This really saddens me, but I’m not surprised. How many of you ever learned about the Chinese in America in your history or social studies classes? I never did. But future generations will read plenty about them because of the pandemic. They will read about the origins of the Corona virus and the ensuing violence against Asians.  But this information is not representative of a rich and interesting culture dating back to the 1840s when the first Chinese arrived in California. They will not read about the thousands of Chinese men who built the railroads and how poorly they were treated or about the racist immigration laws that prevented the Chinese from entering this country for over 50 years.

This predicament makes my stories even more meaningful to me. I have thought a great deal about my father and grandfather over the past few months, much more so than I have in the last 20 years. I’m so glad they are not here to relive the racism and violence against the Chinese. My stories will highlight their strength of character and hopefully transport readers back to a gentler time in America.

Respite

I can’t believe this semester is almost over. What a huge difference from how I felt on day one to now. I started this class so confused and discouraged, but now I see a clear path to the end of my thesis. I’m relieved to have the research portion pretty much done, but now I realize that the real work is looming and I’m feeling an anxiety of a different kind. I’m worried that I won’t be able to come up with enough stories for the creative part of my study. 

Over the break, I will review some old stories and see if any of them are suitable for a new memoir. I have a lot of brainstorming to do and lots of editing too. Right now, I am watching YouTube videos on memoir writing as well as rereading some of my favorite books to see what I like about them and what I can borrow from them for my own stories. So that’s it. I will be doing lots of thinking and hopefully some writing over the break. 

Congratulations to Tom, Amber, Kelsey, and Hugo! You did it! Good luck to you all in the next phase of your lives!

Heartfelt gratitude

Thanks to all of you for your patience and attentiveness while listening to my story. The night before Thanksgiving is very stressful for many of us and we were so lucky to be able to meet over Zoom. Special thanks to Dr. Zamora for her thoughtfullness! Your positive, warm feedback is truly empowering and has given me the confidence to start working on more stories. I will no longer worry whether readers will find them silly or boring. You have validated that they are interesting and evocative of a different time and place, which is exactly what I was striving for. I’m glad that my story made many of you think about your own grandparents and what they valued in their own lives. You wouldn’t be who you are today without their love and peculiar habits.  

Jerry Jenkin’s YouTube tutorials on how to write memoir and compelling stories has helped me tremendously. I highly recommend his advice to all novice writers. I’ve only just begun my writing career, so I need all the help I can get.

Here are more interesting tips from the experts:

  • Figure out the theme in your stories to make them meaningful.
  • Memoir is about the reader not the writer, so it must contain universal truths and transferable principles in order to be of value to the reader.
  • There should be a character arc. Here is what I once was and here is what I am now.
  • Conflict makes a story more compelling.
  • Give detailed descriptions to make imagery as vivid as possible.

I hope this helps all of you. 

Happy writing! 

My Turn

It’s been a chaotic (but wonderful) week. Now that I’m an empty nester, I cherish having all 3 of my children home for the holidays. It’s not often that the entire family is home at the same time, so I try to make these occasions as special as possible. Cleaning the house, figuring out the Thanksgiving menu, food shopping, and preparing for my thesis presentation has been very challenging. 

So how did I de-stress? I took long walks and watched some of my favorite episodes of Mary Tyler Moore on YouTube. 

And now I’m ready! 

My thesis will be about the Chinese immigrant experience, with the research portion focusing on the origins of Chinese hand laundries and the circumstances that led to their proliferation throughout the United States. The creative portion will be a collection of memoir essays that pay homage to my grandfather who came to America during the Chinese Exclusion Act. Many of the issues that I uncovered in my research will be highlighted throughout my stories.

At Dr. Zamora’s suggestion, I will read one of my memoirs during my presentation. Below is the introduction. I appreciate your patience and constructive advice.

Member of the Club

            My favorite perfume is Halston. I love it not only for its seductive floral scent and its elegant, tilted, tear drop shaped bottle, but also because every time I catch a whiff of it, I think of Grampa and the 21 Club. Located at 21 West 52nd Street in Manhattan, Jack and Charlie’s 21 Club was only a few blocks away from our small apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen. When I was little, I didn’t know that it was a famous restaurant or that only important people dined there. All I knew was that Grampa worked there at night and when he came home in the morning, he would give us tiny bottles of Halston perfume.