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1 Jan

Taking stock – December, also known as “hell month,” is now over, and although I do still have quite a bit of work to look forward to over the break, I have been able to put some things to rest, and I feel I can breathe a bit easier now. It’s a new year and there are a lot of exciting things ahead, and I’d just like to look back briefly before diving headfirst into 2005.

“I’ve got a lot to look forward to in the new year, and I hope you do too.”

It seems hard to believe now, but we were in the States at the beginning of 2004, visiting my family in New York and friends on the West Coast. I ended up taking the semester off so I could work on some translation, and finally managed to finish my translation of Mansejeon—which I then decided not to publish. I will go back to it at some point in time, and I do hope to eventually publish it, but not yet.

Honestly, when I look back on 2004, the only things that really stick in my mind are the translation projects I did: finishing Mansejeon, working on the translation of my professor’s book (A History of Korean Literature), translating an application to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, etc. They were (or are, in case of the ongoing translation of my professor’s book) all big projects, and they were all very challenging, but somehow it seems a bit wrong that all I remember is work. I’m going through the months in my head, trying to remember what exactly I did during each month, and all I can really remember is sitting right here in front of my computer, working.

I did go back to school in the fall semester, but I only took one class. This provided a nice opportunity for my wife and I to visit Gangneung, on the east coast of Korea, to do some research for a paper and also just relax a bit. Come to think of it, I never did put up any pictures of that trip. I guess I never got around to it. I suppose that’s something to put on the to-do list, but I honestly don’t know when, or even if, I’ll get around to it.

Speaking of pictures, getting the digital camera this year really opened up new worlds for me in terms of photography. That is not to say that I was suddenly able to take better pictures, or that I became some sort of photographic genius. After all, cameras don’t take pictures, people take pictures. It’s nice to have good equipment, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the person behind the equipment. Having said that, I must admit that having a digital camera does make taking pictures a lot easier.

There are a lot of advantages to a digital camera—for example, the whole process of transferring the photos to the computer to put online here is a lot easier—but perhaps the biggest advantage is being able to take as many pictures as I want and not having to worry about wasting film. When I took pictures with our conventional camera, I would “ration” my shots. I never took more than one picture of a subject. With the digital camera, though, I’ll take anywhere from three to a dozen shots of the same subject, trying different settings, different compositions, different angles, etc. I’ve even gone out and taken fifty shots of a single flower.

I think there’s a certain percentage of photos that I shoot that come out nice. Let’s say (and this is from my own personal experience) that I get one good photo for every twenty shots I take. With a conventional camera and 36 exposures, I might get one nice photo in an entire roll—two if I’m lucky. But if I go out with my digital camera and take twenty shots of each subject, I’m almost guaranteed one nice photo of each subject. So it’s not so much that I’m suddenly a better photographer, I’ve just increased my chances of getting nice photos—although I suppose it is true that my gem-to-crap ratio increases as I take more photos.

The camera, in fact, saved me from insanity on quite a few occasions. It’s rough to spend the entire day working in front of a computer, especially when you work at home, and having the camera allowed me to get outside during my breaks. It was really therapeutic. Unfortunately, I took fewer pictures outside as the weather grew colder. The only pictures I took in December, in fact, were in downtown Seoul.

Although it seems like a lot longer than a month ago for some reason, November was another highlight of the year. You can go back and read the appropriate entry if you missed it, but to make a long story short (an ironic phrase to describe this activity), I ended up writing a novella of 60,000 words in less than a month. It was an amazing experience, and I won’t go into it again since I’ve already talked at length about it, but it really changed the way I think about writing.

I suppose I should mention at this point a decision I have made regarding the story I wrote in November. Up until this entry went online, the draft of the story in its entirety was available in the Writings section. The introductory page is still up, but the story itself has been removed. It was a difficult decision to make, primarily because I hate the idea of taking content down and possibly breaking links (I avoided this by redirecting all old links to the introductory page), but it was something I felt had to be done. I am not abandoning the story—indeed, I plan to let it rest for a while and then go back to it with a vengeance and a very large scalpel. I plan to do sufficient historical research and shape what I have into something publishable.

That’s not why I took it down, though. Despite the fact that the final draft will most likely be very different from the first draft, I am aware that many publishing companies are still so narrow-minded that they will not touch anything that has been published online in any form. I am aware that publishing my first draft online may have ruined any chances of it being published in the future. But that’s OK, because I knew that from the beginning—I went into this not to write something for publication, but to simply write something, and in that I succeeded. And my goal in revising it is to turn it into something publishable, not necessarily to publish it. It would be nice, of course, but I won’t be all that upset if it doesn’t happen. It will see the light of day, if not in book form then back here on Liminality.

The real reason I took it down is because it doesn’t belong on Liminality. I realized this shortly after I started writing it, but at the time I didn’t really have any other choice—there was nowhere else I could put the story. Liminality, though, is for finished pieces. There’s not really all that much in the Writings section, and that’s partly because I don’t put anything but (more or less) finished drafts there (of course, it’s also partly because I really haven’t written all that much lately). Liminality is not the place for first drafts and experimentation. That’s why I took it down.

Hell month began right after NaNoWriMo ended, and I was absolutely swamped with work. Earlier in the year we had contemplated taking a trip, as we often do during the winter. By some twist of fate, my two best friends in the States (although, to be perfectly honest, they’re pretty much my two only real friends left in the States) planned on visiting Asia in December with their better halves. My wife and I had thought of going down to meet them in Hong Kong and then taking off for Southeast Asia—heading back to Thailand and maybe north into Cambodia.

Things didn’t work out, though, and the trip idea was canned. Last week, after finishing watching the extended version of The Return of the King, I flipped over to the BBC and was shocked to see video of a devastated Ko Phi Phi in Thailand. As most of you who are reading this now will know, a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered tsunamis that wreaked havoc on the region. The death toll is still climbing as I write this, and it shakes me to think about it. I was stunned as I watched the footage of Ko Phi Phi, not only because I remembered the time we spent there two years ago, but because that’s where we would have been had the trip not fallen through. My hands are shaking just thinking about it. What do you say in the face of such a massive tragedy? I really cannot think of words to describe how I feel. All we can do is pray for those who remain (and donate to the relief effort).

In all honesty, pretty much everything that comes to mind now seems trivial and pointless after talking about the tragedy; forgive me if I try to put it out of my mind for the moment. (Actually, I had to leave this entry for a day at this point. Welcome to day two.)

There are a lot of things to look forward to this year. For one, I hope to finish the first draft of the translation of A History of Korean Literature. I cannot begin to explain how massive this project is. Well, maybe I can. The original is actually five books, totaling nearly 2,500 pages. Of course, we can’t very well translate all of it—the original books were written for a Korean audience, and were written to be a sort of encyclopedia of Korean literature. To do the same thing for a Western audience would not only be very difficult, it would be a waste of time. Instead, we have to pare this material down into about six or seven hundred pages. It is not so much an abridgement as it is a selection—we are choosing the parts most suited for a Western audience and attempting to put them back together into a unified whole.

“We,” of course, really means me. I do meet with my professor on a regular basis to go over the latest batch of translation, but I am not only responsible for the translation, I am also responsible for deciding which material stays and which material goes. As my professor put it: “I can’t judge what is interesting, understandable, and suitable for a Western audience. Only you can make those decisions.” As you can imagine, this is a huge weight on my shoulders. In fact, the actual selection and arrangement of the material is a far more daunting task than the actual translation. The thought that I could be done with the first draft by the summer is exhilarating. Of course, I’ve still got a long way to go, and if I’m going to finish by summer I’m really going to have to kick into overdrive.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is, ironically enough, the start of a new project. Technically it’s work, I suppose, since I am getting paid to do it, but it’s something I’m really excited about. If all goes well, I will be beginning my first translation of a novel, an historical novel by Kim Young-ha (I translated a story of his entitled Christmas Carol) called Black Flower. It is a truly fascinating story of the first Korean immigrants to Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century. I just love stories of real people getting caught up in the tumultuous events of history, and that’s what this story is. It’s exciting, but I must admit it’s a nervous excitement. The novel is a work of art—will I be able to convey that in English? Hopefully we’ll find out, and hopefully the answer will be yes.

But wait, there’s more! When our plans for a trip to SE Asia fell through, my wife and I decided that we would visit the States again this summer. We plan on spending two weeks on the East Coast, primarily in New York, and two weeks on the West Coast. We’ll fly into Seattle, where we’ll hang out with David (and maybe his girlfriend Julie, who will hopefully make it up from California), then we’ll spend a few days driving down the coast to southern California, where we’ll visit another David and his wife Carmen outside of L.A. Then we’ll fly out of L.A. and back to Korea. I’m probably looking forward to this trip more than anything else. It should be a lot of fun.

Those are the major events on the books right now, but who knows what will pop up. I will continue school, of course, taking one class this coming semester and then two the next semester—I’m hoping to have time to study more after I finish the first draft of A History. Even after that I’ll still have another year of coursework to do, so that’s still quite a way off. At least it feels like it right now. I’m just trying not to think about the idea of writing my dissertation. Oh, it’s not working. Ouch, pain.

OK, that’s not happening this year, so I can push that aside for now. I’m sure other things will pop up over the course of the year to keep me busy. You never can tell what life is going to toss your way, for better or for worse.

I’ve got things I’d like to accomplish in cyberspace as well, mostly here at Liminality. I do have a site on Korean folklore that I’ve been meaning to launch for the longest time, and I hope to get to work on that some during the break, but we’ll have to see how that goes. I definitely want to get it together this year, the sooner the better. When it does happen, you’ll hear about it here first. Actually, this is probably the only place you’ll hear about it.

As far as Liminality itself goes, I’ve got a few ideas for some minor changes to the site. Nothing major—mostly cosmetic stuff, I guess. For example, I’m planning on removing the “Latest at Liminality” box up at the top and replacing it with a link to a pop-up that will contain the same content. I think this will be good in a number of ways. For one, I’ve never really liked the way the box looks in certain color schemes—I’ve just never been able to get it right. Getting rid of the box altogether gives me less to worry about in that department. It also frees up a lot of “above the fold” space (what you see before scrolling down), which is always a good thing. I can also leave the link there permanently, and I plan to have it automatically display the date that the “latest” content is updated, which should be nice.

I’m also wondering about what to do with the Imagery section. The more galleries I add, the longer the page gets, and I’m wondering if maybe I should start breaking things up. I’ve considered dividing the theme galleries from the event galleries, but right now there is a predominance of event galleries (a trend which will most likely continue), so that wouldn’t really be too balanced. Another option would be to just have a certain number of galleries on each page, like 15 (there are currently 23 galleries). I’ll have to play around with it and see what happens. I’m open to suggestions, so if anyone has any ideas, drop me a line.

Another thing I’m working on is specialized content for certain visitors. More specifically, I’m thinking about offering a brief definition and explanation of the concept of liminality—as well as how I believe the concept ties into the site—right up front to those visitors who arrive from search engine hits on “liminality.” I got this idea when I was looking through my logs (a very rare occurrence) a while back, and I noticed that I had received nearly 150 hits that week from people who had searched for “liminality.” I do get the occasional e-mail from people who start out by saying that they came across Liminality because they were searching for a definition of liminality, and they stuck around to read some of my stuff.

Now, I don’t get very many of these e-mails—maybe a couple a month. At the same time, I’m getting about 600 people actually visiting my site searching for a definition of Liminality. I know that not everyone who reads through the site writes me an e-mail, but even so there are still a whole lot of people who are most likely just hitting the back button. I do have a brief explanation of what liminality means on my About page, and Google does show that in its results, but not all search engines do. I only use Google myself, so I never really considered other search engines, but on a whim I decided to run through a list of the top ten search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, AOL, MSN, Lycos, LookSmart, Open Directory, Alta Vista, and AlltheWeb) and see where Liminality stood. I was surprised to find that Liminality came up in the number one spot in eight out of ten of these search engines (Ask Jeeves listed it fourth, and Open Directory is a human-edited directory that I haven’t submitted to yet). Only those users who reach me through Google would see a link for the About page with the definition (and even that requires a bit of reading to get to), while the rest are pretty much on their own.

My idea is to pick up on visitors coming from these search engines and present them with what they are (most likely) looking for right off the bat. This may seem counterproductive at first—after all, if I give them what they are looking for right away, won’t they just take the info and take off? Perhaps, and they would have every right to. But the fact is that most people don’t stick around too long to search for information. Either they find what they want in a certain amount of time or they’re on to their next option. If I give them what they want, they will stick around at least long enough to read it, and if I do a good job of tying it into Liminality as a site, they might stick around to read more.

So, yes, there is a selfish motive to all of this. Actually, though, this didn’t occur to me until later on in the thought process. When I discovered how high the search engines ranked Liminality, the first thing I felt was a twinge of guilt. They say that with power comes responsibility, and I felt that I had a responsibility to meet the expectations that people have of a site ranked number one for “liminality.” I’m not sure why I’m ranked number one (although I do have some ideas), but I am. Offering specialized content to these people would be a way for me to fulfill this responsibility. Maybe that sounds odd or silly, but it makes perfect sense to me. At any rate, the bottom line is that I am now working on a solution to this. I haven’t decided yet whether I will have a simple pop-up or if I will make an entirely separate page that will automatically appear to people coming from searches on “liminality,” but I’m currently leaning toward the latter.

In terms of content, I’ve been working on something for a very long time that I hope to complete soon and put up in the Writings section: my travel journal from our trip to Thailand two years ago. When I first launched Liminality, putting up both the photos and the journal from that trip were on my list of things to do. I eventually got around to the photos (you can see the six galleries in the Imagery section), but I never finished typing in the journal. I’m now about two-thirds of the way through it (maybe more), and I hope to finish sometime this month. It hasn’t been as easy as just typing it in, though. I’ve reorganized the chronology (in the original journal, the events described in the entries often happened several days before I got to write about them), and I also found that just reading through the journal brought things to mind that I hadn’t written down the first time around. So I’ve been filling in details along the way as well.

Of course, I have saved the best for last. This goes back to what I was talking about above when I said that The Dream Tailor (my November novel) didn’t belong on Liminality. Liminality is not and was never intended to be a place for works in progress. However, that isn’t necessarily the end of the discussion. The next logical step, of course, is to create a place that is a place for works in progress. I began toying with the idea about halfway through NaNoWriMo, and in the spare moments I have been able to snatch from the jaws of hell month, I have put together a very simple page for actual writing-in-progress: The Workshop.

You may notice a few things about The Workshop. First of all, it is a subdomain of Liminality, which means that it’s not exactly Liminality, but it’s not not Liminality either. I consider it to be just what I’ve called it: a workshop where I work on pieces that may eventually find their way to Liminality proper. It is not a place for meta-writing (writing about writing), but simply for writing and nothing else—no commentary, no excuses, no explanations. A brief explanation of the page itself can be found by clicking on the question mark to the right of the main title, and everything you really need to know should be in there.

I’m really excited about The Workshop, and although I doubt I will be able to write every day, it will give me a place to write in the spirit of NaNoWriMo—to write without worrying about editing or continuity or even quality. I suppose that should serve as a warning as well. The Workshop may not always be pretty, but it will always be honest.

Well, this has been a rather long entry. It feels like I haven’t written in ages, even though I have had longer absences. It’s probably because of how busy I was in December. Anyway, I’ve got a lot to look forward to in the new year, and I hope you do too. I wish you much fortune in the new year (Saehae bok manhi badeuseyo to you Korean speakers), and I’ll see you soon.

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