So today is a Monday and for the last few weeks I haven’t really been able to focus on the novel like I want to. I scrap a few hours here and there, but one reason or another I manage to find ways to avoid working on it. And this is because the section that I’m wrestling with is difficult and messy.
Today I was grappling with the section of the novel where my protagonist, Bucky, is on his way to the Korean Army and all the procedures and general fitness stuff that conscripts must do there first few days in the Army. I’ve heard a lot from friends during my time here. If you’d like a good perspective, read about this stuff on a great post from “Ask a Korean.”
Now writing about being in bootcamp, the harshness of those in charge and all of that isn’t particularly hard to write about. We’ve all seen Full Metal Jacket and Jarhead and the million other films that are set in bootcamp or barracks life. But for me, what is important isn’t the shittiness or the transformation of an adult into a soldier. It’s the expectation and the negotiation of what all of this is supposed to mean to “Bucky.”
Bucky is born to Korean parents, and his father brings him to America, and abandons him with a family living in rough rural Washington. This is where he grows up. The identity he has there is his identity. Now when he decides to go to Korea and try to find his father, we’re brought into many different possibilities of what this identity gets shaped by.
And this is what is difficult.
Bucky never talks about the draw or the curiosity of being Korean. And I think that might be a thing that needs to be nuanced in this section of the book. I mean really: there’s this idea society that people long for identity, or that they attach themselves to it: What is Bucky’s explanation of this reticence?
Trying to avoid the cliche`, while still making it all lucid is hard. And I think what makes it harder is that for me, in my life, I’ve often found parsing what I’m told is important about “my identity” verses what I truly believe, incredibly difficult.
When everyone talks about culture in America based on race, you get the sense that your identity is defined that way. Authors are often divided in a book store based on their race, (if they’re a minority) as opposed to their genre.
Now without getting to far down that whole of discussion, making this character and his first experience living as a Korean is extremely difficult. It shouldn’t be the trite “Shitty bootcamp that in the end makes him a better man,” nor should it be the blithe feeling of “Yay! I’m Korean!” And it’s easy to get bogged down.It’s easy to say, “I’ve got a sore throat. Must be the flu, so I better park on the couch until I get better before talking that section” and not write at all.
But I whenever I’m confronted with all of these doubts and I build up the courage to actually sit in the chair and do the work, I always go back to the basics. That way I can focus on the story, and keep moving forward because the only way to sort anything in writing is sitting down every day and writing.