Category Archives: Essay

Reading poetry

Poetry is hard to understand, even for the people who are familiar with the poem’s original language. It requires a “feel” of the nuances of the language. And so, it is quite a challenge for a foreigner to fully grasp the meanings of an English poem.

I fear of the day when my frustration with my inabilities would kill my desire to understand English literature altogether. I know that it takes a while for pieces of a new concept to connect inside a human brain. But that assurance is losing its power over me while my impatience finds its way to creep in.

I wonder whether the cause to the frustration is my overestimation of my own English skills. Now that I’m able to read modern prose with ease, the inability to understand old English or the strange language of poetry is like a tap of cold water to my face, reminding me that I’m not that good of a foreign reader.

Fortunately it’s getting cooler in Hanoi these days, which means I’m finally gaining some more willpower due to the fine whether. Here’s hoping a new online course from UPenn can help me become an okay poetry reader, eventually.


Writing in another language

It’s been months since I last wrote something meaningful in this blog. I promised three months ago, after sharing two of my favorite opera performances, to keep up my weekly writing. I have produced nothing since then.

I blamed this on the Common App essay nightmare. But it’s partly my fault. The process of writing my personal statement was filled with anxiety and dissatisfaction. I hated boasting about myself, but always felt pressured about making myself look desirable.

The fact that so many schools rejected me just makes me much more inclined towards thinking that my writing isn’t good. I don’t want to think it’s because I chose to represent myself as an artist in my application, and those people don’t trust an artist enough to give her 50,000 grant a year. If it’s true, it will prove the saying that I’m most scared of, “Society always kills the artist”. It’s easier to assume that I was rejected because my grades developed downwards, or because my essay was not interesting enough for them.

But I read essays from some admitted students and they are all boring. I chose to say something interesting to me and it ended up being something the admission office found boring? When I write secretly, I just want to write until I think it’s good enough. I bring that same attitude into writing the essays. Now that the application is a failure, I come into thinking that I have illusions of competence. I was scared to write again.

What makes me come back? Yesterday my teacher complimented me on my writing. No one has ever done that to me before. Throughout my 12 years of school, my teachers just graded my assignments, never praised, which makes me assume that my writing must be boring as hell. My mother has been telling me since I was in third grade until now that my writing is like Math. It’s clear, but dry. (Yes, dryness is her definition of Math, after her many years of teaching generic Math solutions to primary students in rural Vietnam.)

It’s so ironic that the first time someone praised me on my writing, it was when I wrote in English, not Vietnamese, the language I have been using everyday for every purpose since I was 10 months old.

Maybe I do write better in English. In fact I have written much more in English than in Vietnamese recently. Writing in Vietnamese reminds me of what my mother always says. I can’t repress my habit of thinking,”Oh My God! My writing really sounds like a generic Math solution.”

Here, without any shame, I make a second promise of writing regularly. My Writing teacher probably didn’t know how big her compliment is to me. Writing in English gives me a fresh start. And it’s so nice to have someone’s encouragement from the beginning.