Archive for the ‘Rants d’Être’ Category

I have been wrapped up in my cocoon. Some might say I’ve been isolating or that I’m being a hermit. I guess you could say that. I prefer to say “cocoon” because I always hope to come out better when I do emerge. Somehow whilst cocooning, things have gotten done. I’m truly amazed by how this happens, but I have to give credit to those around me who prop me up when I can barely stand on my own, literally.

This summer was a whirlwind of readings and events. I was on a total adrenaline rush, traveling with my family and having readings at cancer organizations, bookstores, cafes, and universities. We got to be part of Catalyst Foundation’s Vietnam Culture Camp (see previous posts), which was an amazing experience (that we hope to be given the opportunity to repeat one day). My mom and sister even came to one of my readings. But when we returned to Vancouver, my body crashed. It said, “Fuck you, you crazy sonofabitch.” Yeah, sometimes my body and my mind have these arguments. Truth is, my body is aging at a much faster rate than I would like it to, even in the whole scheme of the 8 years of having dealt with cancer. I find myself checking in with my body moment by moment, it seems, asking “We still good? Just a little more, okay?”

The last few days, my husband Anton and daughter Moxie have been traveling in New England for some readings. I have been honoured to be asked to speak to students and professors at the University of Connecticut and for the Five Colleges, at UMass Amhearst (in the Yuri Kochiyama Room, which had special meaning to me, as I edited Yuri’s memoir over a decade ago). Professors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Iyko Day, and Caroline Yang (whom I met way back when I was a graduate student at UCLA visiting my Boston College friends–small world!) all gave me the warmest reception. As always, it was wonderful to read to the new generation of undergraduates, some of whom related tremendously to the work I’ve done, especially mixed race Asian American students and those interested in the legacies of the Vietnam War. Today, I get to go down the runway, albeit in a wheelchair because my foot is still healing from surgery and is not well enough to walk in the Pradas I insist on wearing, for a fashion show fundraiser event for Asian Women for Health in Cambridge, MA. Our little 4-year-old Moxie is especially excited to go to the fashion show in her new tutu that vomits glitter everywhere she goes.

My boobs, or rather an artistic reproduction of them, are up for sale at the Art or Bust auction in Vancouver, with proceeds going to the organization, Rethink Breast Cancer, an organization for young women with breast cancer. You can check out the works of art here (mine are the middle pair in the right column): https://www.facebook.com/artorbustproject

These opportunities are a wonderful blessing, but they also challenge my desire to keep going, even when I should stop and take a rest. And I need to take a lot of rests. That fucking sucks, to be honest. As I come upon my 40th birthday next month, I want to keep going as much as possible, do as much as I possibly can, and believe me there is a whole shitload of things I want to do. On my list:

  1. Write second memoir.
  2. Write poetry collection companion to second memoir.
  3. Catch up on my backlog of editing projects–worthwhile manuscripts and stories that need to be put out there to be read.
  4. Go to Vietnam to help out with the Agent Orange survivors movement and other humanitarian projects.
  5. Read/write/speak French and Vietnamese more and better.
  6. Raise three kids with empathy and activism and confidence in their hearts and minds. And bake them more bread and cookies.
  7. Start my tarot and snail facial business. (Who wouldn’t want to have their cards read AND have snails crawling all over their faces to benefit from the anti-aging properties of snail slime at the same time?)
  8. Love, love and more love. Can never have too much of that.
  9. Collaborate with someone awesome on a screenplay of my memoir.
  10. Teach more writing workshops, take my vitamins everyday without fail, and eat more fibre.

There’s more, but that’s the gist of it. I think. So come on, body…keep up with my mind. And come on mind, keep on keeping up as much as you can. As my friend Wayson Choy always tells me, I’m not done yet.

Read Full Post »

WARNING: The story I’m about to tell you is about my transformation from a tragic mulatta into a punk-ass half-breed bitch. I’ve probably already offended you with my appropriation and use of historical derogatory terms for mixed race/heritage people. You might think I’m being disrespectful by telling the story below. But people like me in Vietnam have not been respected. Their mothers were called whores for having relationships with American soldiers. My mother was called a traitor and a whore by her family when she married my father and got pregnant by him several times. My father was shunned for bringing home one of them, and it wasn’t until I was born in America that his family accepted my mother. I took a lot of crap for being an “Oriental” in school. My mother and sister didn’t get any respect when they visited their Vietnamese family 20 years later. My experience has been different from my sister’s, especially with our family here in Vietnam. But for three weeks, I’d avert my eyes when I felt people’s stares smacking my not-quite-Vietnamese face, and I’ve held my tongue. So it’s taken three weeks for this story to have taken place, or perhaps even longer, for what I experienced today, I’d never before experienced in my whole life.

We woke up at an ungodly hour to go to some mountain somewhere far away. I knew it involved a gondola. That’s it. That’s all I knew. We drove and drove and drove, and by mid-morning, we reached our destination. I was trying to figure out what this place, as my uncle, auntie, mom, and I were walking. This place seemed to be part (crappy) amusement park, part souvenir-hawking, part going up this mountain for the view. We went up the mountain on the gondola, the experience being very much like the other gondola experiences I’ve had. And yes, the view was nice.

(Hold on a sec. I gotta back up so you can check out this woman’s gnarly foot.)

When we got to the top, we exited and walked up a bunch of rocky stairs….to go to yet another temple. I know lots of people, whether or not Buddhism is their religion, are fascinated by temples, or I guess by big fancy religious places of interests in general, but I’m not. Chalk it up to me being non-religious, or me wanting the money and efforts spent on those fancy buildings actually being used to help people in need, but those places don’t interest me, and in fact, I’m sometimes repulsed by the grandiosity. So while my uncle, auntie, and mom went into the temple at the top of the mountain to give their offerings of incense, flowers, and money, I told them I would wait for them and sit down in one spot and write and drink beer.

In the 20 days that I’ve been in Vietnam, this was the very first opportunity that I was given to be by myself in public. My mom has been scared to leave me to myself outside, afraid someone will kidnap me or worse. I’m sure you can imagine. And really, I followed her fears. But I figured, hey, there are lots of people here on top of the mountain, they were going to be in the temple for a few minutes, and I’m just going to sit here and write. What could possibly happen? Here’s what happened.

Within seconds of placing myself on a step of a building where other people were sitting, this woman started sweeping all the garbage on the ground in a big pile right in front of me. Yea, she could have picked a different spot to pile her garbage, but eh, so what? Then this dude came around to sell me lottery tickets. These lottery ticket people are everywhere. Mom always buy five or ten tickets from these people, and they cost 50 cents each. I keep asking my mom, “What do you win? How do you know if you’ve won anything? How do you check?” She’s tells me she doesn’t know. She just gives them to Auntie. And there’s a ritual when choosing the tickets. Auntie goes through the booklet and tears out the ones she wants. I have no idea what the difference is. Lucky numbers, I’m guessing.

Anyway, this dude sees me writing and comes by with his lottery tickets. I say, “Không,” which means no. He still stands right in front of me, trying to make me feel uncomfortable. I wave him away. No dice. So I write in big letters in my journal, “Tôi là con lai Mỹ,” which means “I’m an American mixed kid.” I look at him and say, “Được rồi? Đi đi! Hết rồi.” This means “Okay already? Go away! Enough.” I go back to writing in my journal, and write this in HUGE letters, “Đụ má mày!” Or “motherfucker,” for those of you wishing to learn Vietnamese. He went away, but more lottery ticket hawkers swarmed me, and the people on the balcony above me were watching and talking about me. So I kept my journal open to the pages boldly declaring and owning what I am and that those who don’t like me can go fuck themselves (or their mothers, really, as the translation goes), and though I didn’t know how to write in Vietnamese that I didn’t want to buy any goddamn lottery tickets, I think they got the idea.  At that moment, my family came out from the temple, and I started off with them while maddogging every person who was staring at me. I told my family what happened (leaving out the swearing part because my mother would have slapped me across the head), and they laughed.  But when we got back down to the bottom of the mountain, she told me to just say I’m American, or Vietnamese American, and leave out the half-breed word. I said, “Why, Mom? After all, that’s why they’re staring at me, so I might as well just say it out loud for everyone to hear.  Tôi là con lai Mỹ.”  She shook her head.  We know the negative connotations, but fuck it, I’m gonna say it. Why should I be the only one made to feel uncomfortable?

We got back to the car, and I thought we were going back to the hotel. Little did I know that we were going to Tây Ninh, home of the original Cao Đài temple. Yes, another temple. But this one caught  my interest because this is mothership. Here’s a short summary of Cao Đài: it’s Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Vietnamese folklore all mixed together into an all-seeing eye. Wikipedia that shit. It’s wild. But that’s what my mom goes for, so it is. She usually just tells people she’s Buddhist because it’s too difficult for her to explain Cao Đàism, and to Americans, it all looks the same anyway.


However, I didn’t know that this is one of the stops on the South-to-North bus tour for foreigners. The first white guy I saw wore a tee that said, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I said, “I am too.” He gave me a confused look, partly because he was surprised to hear English coming out of my mouth. “Your shirt,” I said. He laughed. I said, “We word nerds have to stick together.” I saw him later after we made the rounds, and we chatted a little. He was with the other white people….lots of them! I wanted to take a picture with some. I mean, here they were, snapping photos of the masses of Cao Đaists in their white áo dài.

So I went up to this older white couple and asked them if they spoke English. With a surprising tone (I’m sure they never thought anyone in Vietnam would be asking them that question), they said “Yes?” And then I asked to take a pic with them. I said I wanted to take a picture with white people because I’m half white and happy to see them. They gave me a hesitant (and kinda offended) “Okay,” and I asked them where they were from. They said Holland. I told them, “Trust me, it’s okay because this is so postcolonial,” as I took the selfie. My mom gave me a look that said, “What you do?!” I grabbed her arm and told the couple, “This is my mom. Isn’t she cute?” They chuckled and quickly boarded their tour bus.


Oh shit, before I forget….here’s a monkey eating a watermelon! He even spat out the seeds.

So that was my day. Take that, multiracial identity politics! I’m an equal opportunity offender of both sides of me.

Ending on a positive note, here’s a cute pic of me, Mom, and Auntie, whom I told to SMILE!!!

Read Full Post »

Time and time again, I’ve heard from many people about how they view the path of a writer or artist as a risky one. They feel there’s something mystical and unattainable about it in terms of embarking on such a journey. I agree with the mystical part; I’ve almost believed in the attainable part as well. But if you feel it in your bones, if it nags at you and follows you around wherever your feet take you, at some point, you must answer the call. You might not know what you’ll be stepping into—I think most people fear slipping in a pile of shit—but you go for it. I’ve heard the call since I was five years old. Now that I’m 36, I’ve decided to answer it, big-time.

Hopefully, it’s not a pile of shit that I’m walking into. Hopefully, it’s a field full of beautiful flowers and lush forest growth. I’m sure it’ll actually be somewhere in between. After all, you can’t have the lush growth without a little shit.

So this is where I am now. I’ve got representation for my first book, What Doesn’t Kill Me. I know how fortunate I am. . .I know how hard it is to get an agent, and I’ve lucked out by landing the best. My agent has a lot of faith in my book and me. Still, I have fear. Then I remember my middle name, Liên. It’s Vietnamese for “lotus blossom,” which is known to grow in mud. So shit, or mud, is good. And I’ll tell you what: there’s a lot of shit in my book. A lot of funny shit, sad shit, and shit that makes you go “hmm…” I can promise you that. Shit—lots and lots of shit.

Next step for my book: to sell the shit. Right now, I’m hauling ass on creating this website (under the guidance of my most fantastic husband, Anton) and polishing my manuscript. I’ll let you know who the über-smart and forward-thinking buyer of my book is as soon as I find out!

In the meantime, take a look at some excerpts from my book under the “Featured” tab. While you do that, I’ll step off the cliff into the great unknown, like the Fool in Tarot, and I’ll enjoy the fall and flight the whole damn time. Cheers!

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: