Why I’m Moving to Vietnam

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This almost looks like it fell out of a head full of fantasy.

A week ago today, the magnitude of the events I had set in motion really began to sink in.

Almost a month ago today, the ticket to Vietnam was booked. A week later, I got my visa.

At the time of this post, I’ll be in the final stages of leaving behind the closest thing to home that I’ve felt in few years.

Today’s post is about my big move, from the Catskills of Upstate New York (about 2-2.5 hours north of New York City), to Saigon, Vietnam, clear on the other side of the planet. Many have asked me why I’m doing this, and I’ve provided a multitude of answers. Today we’ll see a compilation of reasons that have me uprooting myself and, quite possibly, living for an extended period of time in a country the likes of which no Rebock has ever set foot.

To more business oriented people, my answer to “why” is for the opportunity to be found there. My skillsets as a writer, freelance editor, and teacher of English as a Second Language have given me tools that have ultimately primed me to become something I didn’t know I really wanted until recent years: to be location independent. To be mobile. Saigon has a low cost-of-living, and is a place frequented by many other people like me. Entrepreneurs, writers, people whose livelihood does not depend on a cubicle and a boss, but on their laptop.

To the more creative and open-minded peers of mine, my answer is that my heart is in Asia. No, I’m not moving for a girl, and while I do romanticize the entire ordeal, it’s not that kind of romance. What I mean by this is that I have always felt an affinity for Asian thought and cultures, having been drawn in that direction since an early age by art and music. To say “Asian,” of course, is a vast generalization, and to narrow it down, I mean South/East-Asia (which I hope comes as no surprise to anyone that that, in fact, is where you’ll find Vietnam). Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City (I prefer Saigon) is a place where I can surround myself with things that I love.

It is a place of digital nomads, one of several such places, where men and women go to chase their dreams.

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My dream, as a creative, is to write.

The idea of having a home base is something special, but the freedom to uproot and go somewhere else is a unique thing few people really possess. It’s not really encouraged by our culture. I grew up in the general area where I’m in now, as of this writing. The Catskills of New York have their charms, and in many ways they were my home for most of my life, but being comparatively itinerant for the last few years embedded seeds of curiosity, wonder, and confidence.

Who’s to say whether I will find a permanent home anywhere, ever, but I have reached a point in my life where I essentially know that wherever that home is, it’s nowhere near where I grew up. Vietnam is about as far away as you can possibly get from New York, and while I am open to the possibility of staying there for an extended time, the distance from my childhood home did not factor into the decision.

If cheap cost-of-living were to be found on the moon, I’d probably jump on that next.

I had a conversation with the Firebeard (you know who you are) before leaving, about the concept of uprooting and planting one’s self in another place. In ancient days, tribes would wander the plains and, sometimes, settle in places to form villages. But others would keep going – over mountains, across seas, through forests. To this day it astounds me to think of our ancestors, after leaving Africa, spending hundreds of generations to spread across the globe. Villages established, nations sprouted, languages formed; everywhere.

And then after these places are formed, there were travelers between them. The Silk Road comes to mind, a long and arduous path rife with danger.

What in the hell possessed people to strike out into the unknown, to risk life and limb to find someplace new, or maintain trade between distant places? Such a journey would likely be the worst experience in one’s life.

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During this conversation, the idea of colonizing new worlds came up. For the sake of argument, we devised a simple thought experiment. Imagine a fully habitable planet were discovered, and a project were set in place to send colonists there. Insert your own reason here. However, it would be such a tremendous draw on the global economy that one ship could be launched from Earth, at maximum, once every 100 years or so. In other words, it’s a one-way ticket, and you as a potential colonist would never have a chance to return to good old Terra.

Yes, on this new world the air is breathable, the plants are edible, and there would be ample other people going with you. Details such as animal life, nasty diseases/parasites, or even tribal races already being there only complicate the thought experiment. So, the basic question is, all this considered: Would you go?

Firebeard decided he would not, and I regard him as one the most adventurous people I’ve ever known. Yet, he feels drawn back to the area where he grew up, and as of this post, to this day he lives there, having traveled various parts of the world but always returning, and is in the process of setting his roots in place.

I said that I would go.

It isn’t so much disdain for what I am leaving behind. It isn’t disappointment with family, friends, job opportunities. It isn’t an inability to “make it” in America or in this culture, whatever American culture is. No, I would go on this one-way ship to another world because if I did not, I would spend the rest of my life wondering, wishing, what it would be like if I did.

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That is why I am going to Asia.

Perhaps I am over-romanticizing it. I’ve no doubt that after I land and adapt, getting over that “honeymoon phase” of moving somewhere new, there will be a couple of reality checks that I’ll have to face. Likely I’ll encounter bouts of loneliness, depression, those dreaded “oh shit, what am I doing?” moments. But there are two benefits to this.

One is that exposing yourself to the possibility of failure is how you grow.

The other is that, as a writer, the key question will not be “What am I doing?” but “How can I use this?”

I’ll be leaving behind family and friends, and am open to the very real possibility of not coming back except to visit. We’ve seen this narrative before in stories, some of the best. The Hero’s Journey, in fact, often begins with the character leaving his/her place of comfort, their home. I wouldn’t dare consider myself a hero, but in terms of the Monomyth/Story Circle narrative, it wasn’t until Firebeard pointed it out that I realized there’s something in common here.

So, in a nutshell, we have:

  • Low cost of living
  • Proximity to like-minded people (entrepreneurs etc.)
  • Job opportunities (Teaching ESL, while continuing my freelance editing)
  • Can continue creative ventures
  • Fascinating culture. This includes a new language to learn, food to taste, music to hear, places to see, and of course, people to meet.

~~~

Today’s music choice comes from Princess Mononoke, a Studio Gibli animated film. Somehow, calling this an “anime” doesn’t sound right to me, though that is in fact what it is. The track comes from the beginning of the movie, after the Introduction of the Problem, and right as the hero leaves his home and family forever. It’s a symphonic suite of the track, as opposed to the original soundtrack.

I feel very strongly about this piece, as I feel the tune and mood it evokes fits strongly with the narrative of my life at this time. Granted, I haven’t fought off any cursed monster boars, nor am I riding a red elk, nor do I expect to set off a chain of events that will change the course of a region. Just this moment, this “traveling between places” moment, is perhaps my favorite part of the entire movie.

 

 

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Tidings 06/20/2014

 

  • Announcements

I guess what pertains most to you all, dear readers, is the mere fact that I’m reducing my twice-a-week posts down to the classic once-a-week variety. The simple reason for this is that I want to provide higher quality posts, and more than once I feel that I wrote posts on topics that served little purpose other than “filler.” They felt that way to me, anyway.

That word leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s something I’m determined to not do again.

Also, though not particularly related to this blog, I’m expecting some big environmental changes soon. In other words, I’m moving. Like I said, this should not affect the blog all that much on account of the fact that none of you know where I live anyway. However, where I’m headed is a new and exotic place overseas, and the nature of a number of posts may reflect this for, as most of you know, I’m rather big on experience. I have no intentions of turning this into a travel blog or anything, but chances are I’ll come across something inspiring and related to writing and/or fantasy to share.

More on that in the future.

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  • Writing Progress

It’s June, which means we’re nearing the end of yet another quarter for the Writer’s of the Future contest. I have a story ready, and have allocated some valuable feedback from a number of trusted associates. Typically I wait until the last day of the deadline, just in case I have any last-minute thoughts regarding the story, but this time around I’m thinking I should just submit it a week early and be done with it.

My other writing, the ever-ongoing novel project, progresses at a slow grind. I’ve reached a point where there remain but three chapters of raw text to be written out. Ideally, that will come out to another 30,000 words, but word count does not matter so much as the actual telling of the story. I’m finding that certain character perspectives involve a lot more detail, a lot more things to write about, than others, and wonder to myself whether there is any detriment to having characters’ chapters at 10,000 words while others, from other characters, are as low as 6,000. It doesn’t concern me that much, but just enough to make me wonder. The last thing I want to do is fill shorter chapters with fluff.

Then of course there’s refinement and editing. I think I actually prefer that part, though. The raw creative energy is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but getting the thoughts in place and the words down seems to be the longest part for me. I’ve read how other writers hate editing their own stuff. I rather enjoy it – as far as I’m concerned, the hard part’s over at that point, and it’s just a matter of organizing, trimming, refining.

I’ve noticed those are activities I enjoy doing in life.

Regardless, nearing completion of this novel is really quite exciting. When I finish the first draft, I’ll share the story (and believe me, there is one) for its inception and how I came about writing it (a third time). For now, though, suffice it to say it’s still in the works, and my goal of completing it this year is still very easily in sight. After all, 30,000 words really isn’t that much. Those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo know this to be true.

~~~

Today’s musical number is brought to you by a documentary I occasionally find myself returning to, called Wild China. As of this posting, it’s on Netflix, and Wild China is about exactly what it sounds; a National Geographic-styled production focusing on the wildlife and landscapes of China. It covers some of the peoples living out there, too, but mainly focuses on the natural science.

China is a big goddam place, with dozens of extremes in both animal life and environments; in terms of culture, what a lot of people don’t know is that China is more like Europe than a single unified country. Sure they’re under one flag at this moment in history, but they’ve 292 living languages today, including dialects spoken by 52 ethnic groups. Aside from some of the stunning imagery the documentary shows, we get to hear the narration of Bernard Hill (who us fantasy fans might recognize as King Théoden from the LotR movies.)

I couldn’t help but think of Théoden in his throne (post anti-aging), reading the script to this.

Why I Stopped Reading Tolkien

So it wasn’t really that long ago that I’d announced I began reading the Lord of the Rings. Turns out I’m setting it down again.

“But Jesse! Lord of the Rings! It’s like the bible of fantasists!”

Or conversely:

“Ahh, most understandable, Jesse. What’re you reading instead?”

This time around, I’ve at least made it as far as approximately 50% into it; the chapter The Taming of Smeagol, to be precise. The sad truth is that listening to LotR has become much less of an interest so much as a chore. I felt more compelled to read it not because I genuinely wanted to learn what happens (and I am thoroughly aware that had I never seen the movies, there might be a little more intrigue, but seriously, come on now), but rather because it felt as though it was something that I ought to be expected to do as a fantasy writer. Personally I’m not really big on doing what people expect.

Turns out there’s quite the community of anti-fans of LotR, some of whom are downright ornery about it, too. The most outspoken of whom that I’ve yet discovered goes by the name of China Miéville, and I feel I cannot put what he’s said better. I believe his thoughts are, while strong, well thought-out, and I believe he makes solid points. I’m inclined to say I subscribe to these ideas.

One day, perhaps I will jump back into the world of Middle-Earth and subject myself to the remainder of the story, if even just to say I did it. But that’s no reason to read a book, is it? I don’t know about you, but I tend to read books because I like the writing, or the characters, or dig the story or the setting. Tolkien has much of this, but there’re too many … obstacles.

China Miéville:

“When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien’s innumerable heirs. Call it ‘epic’, or ‘high’, or ‘genre’ fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.

Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can’t ignore it, so don’t even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there’s a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien’s clichés—elves ‘n’ dwarfs ‘n’ magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was ‘consolation’, thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.

That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.

Of course I’m not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it’s impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick’s superb Iron Dragon’s Daughter gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?

Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it’s getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy’s radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they’re not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.

The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we’re entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn’t been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don’t know if he’s right, but I’m excited. This is a radical literature. It’s the literature we most deserve.”

What are your thoughts, dear readers? Agree or disagree with the above statement?

Tidings 03/03/2014

Today’s post is a two-parter, and the first of the Tidings category. I spent a whole three seconds considering whether I should start every Tidings with a “Hear ye, hear ye!” Let’s just get into it.

~Announcements~

Firstly, and this is nothing huge but I figure worth mentioning regardless, is that I’ve begun reading The Lord of the Rings. Gasp. Shudder.

“Why, Jesse? You’re maintaining a blog that not only concerns itself with fantasy, but has it in the very title. How could you not have read it?”

Truth is, I’ve tried in the past, when I was younger, less ambitious and less disciplined sapling. I think I got about as far as Tom Bombadillo, then put it down, and since never picked it back up. What’s the deal? I have huge respect for the work of Tolkien and (I regret to say that only recently) I have been learning more and more about the man himself. I suppose I have no excuse. I’ve been consuming other fantasy from other authors, and LotR has always sort of been that foundational bedrock I walked on but found too intimidating to dig up. Not to mention my head is filled with imagery from the films, as those were a family favorite and were played frequently in my home as a sapling.

I suppose, with the urging of a trusted associate of mine, the time has simply come. One can’t be rushing into some things, even if it takes a lapse of about 12ish years to re-pickup a book.

I’m also happy to report that I’m digging it. As I hinted at, the movies are borderline memorized (partially against my will), but there is apparently enough in the source material to make it seem as a rather different adventure, though of course the skeleton of the story is unchanged. Someone would have told me, I think, if that were the case. But regardless, I aim to complete the entirety of the Lord of the Rings, then after a breath of air, delve into the Silmarillion.

But one step at a time.

Secondly, I’m also happy to report that a short story of mine has been accepted by Beyond the Imagination magazine. One must start somewhere.

~Writing Progress~

Since my visit to Florida, during which I was able to get a huge volume of prose written, I’ve been struggling to not only transcribe it from my notebook to Scrivener, but a wave of that type of fervent creative energy hasn’t quite hit yet. I blame not being in an airplane and returning to Where They Think I Work … where I remain for now, but not for long.

I came up with and will be implementing a format/formula for how my story will be presented, the details of which I will gladly get into in a later post. Suffice it to say that many gaps have been filled where there was simply floating ideas before, and the feeling is utterly exhilarating. By the time this post goes up, I will have willed myself into a Transcription Phase, where I shall set up my $1.00 notebook upon a music stand review some newly discovered music.