The Next Big Thing

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Begun in Australia, The Next Big Thing is a campaign that has spread around the world. Authors answer several questions that introduce their next project. Then they tag another author to do the same, a type of web chain mail. I’ve been tagged by poet Joe Harrington.

What is the working title of your book?

I’m involved in two books. One is The Writing Pulse and is based on my class, Writing From the Body. The other, already written, is Ginseng Tango.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The Writing Pulse comes from years of writing and dancing. Somatic awareness leads me to some really interesting places both on the page and on the stage – experientially, syntactically and imagistically. When I share the technique with students, many are astounded by the results. I want to share the technique with an audience larger than my classroom.

Ginseng Tango came from living and teaching in S. Korea. Continually I was reminded about my outsider status, that there was no place in the culture for a single, independent woman who is a feminist, poet, dancer, professor, and Buddhist from the U.S. By day’s end, exhausted and exhilarated, I would lay on the andol, the heated floor in my apartment, which, by the way, is where Koreans sleep. I felt compelled to write about the liminal instances when my western sensibility chafed against Confucian beliefs and practices.

What genre does the book fall under?

Both are nonfiction. I look forward to my return to poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

There’s no story to The Writing Pulse. It’s a collection of essays, anecdotes, and exercises. Illustrations maybe, but no actors.

As to Ginseng Tango, several readers say it would make a good movie. The main character is me. I’d accept a bit part in the movie, perhaps as an anonymous woman waiting at the train station. The lead actor would have to be able to dance. I learned to tango, and do nondak, an ancient Korean shamanistic dance, and taught contact improvisation. Juliette Binoche comes to mind. A few strangers on the street came up to me thinking I was her. In writing this post, I discovered Binoche is also a dancer. The men in the story are Korean and I’m unfamiliar with Korean actors. Chow Yun Fat, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger, would work as my tango partner/acupuncturist. If there’s some way to include Mikhail Baryshnikov however, I welcome an opportunity to have to dance with him. Perhaps in the train station.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Writing Pulse puts readers in touch with what moves them to write by connecting to innate body wisdom, awareness, and creative expression.

For Ginseng Tango: The author moves to S. Korea to teach English and dance where she is drawn into a tango community, shamanism, acupuncture, a life threatening situation, and a culture caught between traditions and ideologies. In a story of courage amid grief, she demonstrates the links between contrary forces, ancient practices and modernist tendencies, romantic love and Confucian obedience, Buddhism and monotheism, harmony and strife, finding spiritual renewal and balance in constant change, her own struggles embody the heart of Korea and its ongoing hope for harmony.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I use words like “piezoelectric” and “neuroplasticity” in The Writing Pulse and “noribang” and “samul nori” in Ginseng Tango. Words open worlds, and readers will be able to travel geographically and linguistically with me.

Both books are set in an exotic locales. I love the line from James Joyce’s short story, “A Painful Case.” He says, “Mr Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” Unless we inhabit ourselves regularly, a practice of attending to the many varied and idiosyncratic perceptions, we are a stranger to our own skin. When we finally do so, inhabiting our bodies is mind blowing. Obviously in Ginseng Tango, my unfamiliarity was with the country. Pig sacrifices? S. Korean jet fighters rattling classroom windows as they chase N. Korean missiles? A knife wielding woman? Spirit ancestors? I’d rather not repeat most of these events, thank you, but they do make for a good story.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve an agent representing both.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The Writing Pulse: yet to be determined, but I’ll estimate 8. Ginseng Tango: 10 months.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I am continually fascinated by the mindbody interface. In college, I was told to specialize, to choose to pursue either writing or dancing. You say “don’t” or “can’t,” and I say “do” and find a way. The body is cognitively understood by many, but few of us experience its many layers and pathways that lead to visions, direct knowing, and other phenomena for which labels and language fall short. When years ago I brought dance into my poetry, my lines imploded. I was finally able to bring Being and Becoming into writing, breath poised, pirouetting and twisting on the line. Dance has been my greatest writing teacher.

Korean culture turned some of my western assumptions on their head. Also a steady diet of acupuncture and tango changed my body. But with any book that I write, I engage in the process because I must. Who else in their right/write mind would commit to the immense effort and time required to creating a book in a culture that frequently disregards art, especially as the VIDA count reminds us, writing by or about women? I must. End of story.

And now, for The Next Big Thing, I tag poet Joanna Lee.

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