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I’ve been hibernating. (Always found it interesting that “hibernation” is related to the French word for winter, “l’hiver”—for me, winter always seems to be coming). I guess that’s a trait that writers have in common with bears. My 2014-2015 book tour took the life out of me, not to mention other deep family issues I’ve been dealing with after the death of my father two years ago. My personal life is messy and complicated and hard—and so is writing about it. That’s the curse and blessing of the memoirist.

Writing as healing—I’ve always thought of writing in this way, even when I was a little girl. Or perhaps I didn’t think of it as healing, but more like comforting, filling up the space around me when I was in isolation. Oftentimes, people are reluctant to start the healing process because it can be daunting and unknown, what the results will be. I’ve been quiet both on the talking and the writing fronts because there’s a lot of thinking going on, and it exhausts me. I tried to rev up and get stuff in motion to try to get back the old me, the pre-cancer me who did a bunch of stuff like a boss (9 YEARS ago). I have to put that old me to rest. That’s not me anymore. I can’t possibly be that person. That person had Red Bull, adrenaline, and youthful ambition running through her veins. This person falls asleep in waiting rooms and snores and doesn’t care.

But this person does need to get back to writing. Writing does heal me, and also others. I’ve done a good job when I can write something, read it, and say, “Huh, I actually didn’t know that about myself before. Now I can move on.” I’ve done an excellent job when my readers can connect to my words and get the feels.

My children are at the age where they are blossoming as writers and artists. So we hung up whimsical education posters we bought at the dollar store about grammar, proofreading, punctuation, the writing process, literary devices, and styles of writing. I’m looking at the poster for styles of writing. Under “Narrative” the rules are simple: 1. Think About It! (did a lot of that, for sure) 2. Just Start Writing! (as if it were that easy) 3. Get Organized! (where’s my pen again?) 4. Rewrite and edit (uh…) Okay, so I’m thinking and writing, and rambling and wandering. Even this blog post is overwhelming me. My inner editor is berating me right now: Are you really going to publish this drivel on your website? People are going to think you’ve lost your mind and your touch.

To my inner editor: yes, I’m going to publish this drivel. It’s the first thing I’ve posted in 9 months. It took me 9 months to cook up this baby, so yeah, I’m pushing it out, okay?  Because it’s stuck. And I need to get it unstuck. It’s so stuck, it hurts. So there. You. Go.

Almost one year ago my first memoir was released out into the big scary world. It was a pleasant coincidence that the publication date was November 11, 2014–Veteran’s Day in America and Remembrance Day in Canada. Most people think of this as the same holiday. I suppose it is–one holiday with two names. But since publishing What Doesn’t Kill Us and touring North America this year, I’ve come to look at November 11th as two holidays. We recognize our veterans in America–in a country that should recognize them and compensate them more than what is happening. In Canada, we remember the veterans who have served and continue to serve with poppy pins and school assemblies. I can’t remember Veteran’s Day being very ceremonial when I grew up in Pennsylvania. My memory of the day was this day every year when my father was very silent, tense, and angry. That was as ceremonial as we got in our house.

November 11th has always been a odd sort of day for me. Eleven-Eleven. If you’re remotely interested in numerology as I am, you know that the number 11 is a special number: “The 11 symbolizes the potential to push the limitations of the human experience into the stratosphere of the highest spiritual perception; the link between the mortal and the immortal; between man and spirit; between darkness and light; ignorance and enlightenment. This is the ultimate symbolic power of the 11” (from http://www.numerology.com/numerology-numbers/11-master-number). With my book I’ve been shown these connections time and time again as I meet new people and share my stories, and readers feel comfortable enough to share theirs. So maybe I think of it as more than just a funny coincidence that my book was published on 11/11–despite my relationship to the date, I did not publish this book on purpose on that date. What can I say? It’s destiny.

This year, two weeks from 11/11, I turn 40 years old. This year was the 40th year since the end of the Vietnam/American War. Again, things come full circle as they are meant to, and I just stand in awe.

To recognize and celebrate this synchronicity, Rabbit Fool Press is offering a free download of What Doesn’t Kill Us, starting on November 11, for a limited time. This is your opportunity to read it if you haven’t but wanted to, spread the word, see if it resonates with you, see if you’d like to teach this book in your class (I’ve had amazing responses from students who’ve read this book in their classes). Having you read my book is the best gift for my 40th birthday–and if you do read it, you could give me another present in the form of a review on Goodreads or Amazon!

We will announce this once again on November 11th, but check this link on this day for your free download and spread the word: What Doesn’t Kill Us.

In love and light…xo

I am deeply honoured that Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu of Stanford has published a wonderful review of my book in Amerasia Journal. When I first read it, I was thinking, “Whoa, is he talking about me? About my book?” Yes, he is! You can find the pdf and information on how to order this particular issue of Amerasia Journal here:

http://www.murphyshigematsu.com/blog-3/

Layers of Clouds

I woke up and took my Synthroid as I do every morning. My morning pills, when I was 10, were two chalky Flintstones vitamins. I didn’t care so much for which characters I ate as much as I cared about colour. Red and purple were the ones that were gone first from the bottle. My youngest child is the same way. I watched her pick out two red Frozen characters gummy vitamins after she ate cereal today.

After the two older children left for school, I went to lie down with the youngest. She was waking up, and I was noticing the condensation on the bedroom window. I remembered when I was a girl, I used to write on the condensation every autumn morning, while brushing my teeth. I would write some boy’s name + mine enclosed in a heart. Then I would make a wish that this romance would happen soon as I used my sleeve to wipe away the declaration of love. Then I’d look out the window to see if I could spot any deer in the field behind the garage.

When Moxie was settled down with her favourite morning show, I went out to the back porch and counted the layers of grey and white clouds creeping over downtown. The recycling truck roared a few blocks away. Two planes flew toward the mountains, one at a much higher altitude than the other. Where I come from, it’s so quiet that city folk have trouble sleeping at night. And in the mornings, as I waited for the #1 or #3 school bus at the bottom of our driveway, I’d try to pick out bird songs and chatter. I’d do my best not to slip on the frost as I stood there shivering, watching the top of the hill where my cousin lived, to see when the bus would round the corner and pick me up for another day of school. I wanted to be so smart that I could move to New York City someday.

Reflection is a good way to ground you in the present. Sounds like a contradiction, to look at the past to be in the present. But when I do these types of reflections–of watching the film in my head of what life was like back then, and how I got to where I am now–I always without fail end up marvelling at the paths taken to bring me to the present moment. I love it when the small quiet memories deliver me a breathtaking moment in the present.

If you write in a journal, try tapping into one of these memories and connecting it to the present. You might give yourself a nice introspective surprise that will carry you throughout the day.

Quite simply, a redirection to my cancer blog: http://cancerfuckingsucks.blogspot.ca/2015/10/what-being-cancer-survivor-means-to-me.html

Not Yet

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.

Poem: August Rain

At some anonymous minute at five in the morning
I sit on a white stool on a black aluminum-gated balcony,
watching the orange glow of the street lamp in our alley.
My husband says that a South Asian family lives in the house
where lights come on just now and a shadow robotically prepares coffee.
I imagine Dad sitting here like I am, smoking a cigarette, already knowing
all the neighbours’ daily and nightly routines. He’d know their names,
how many kids they have, where they came from, if they were nice
or assholes, if they sold weed. And they’d know him—
the friendly chain-smoking American Vietnam veteran
whose daughter never comes out of the house because
she’s writing another book. They’d know
she was ill all the time, has three kids,
and her no-good ex-husband cheated on her when she got cancer.
They’d know that this American and his wife were from Pennsylvania
and this American hated Vancouver because he’s from
the country—American country—and it’s too rainy
and noisy and expensive here.

Turn my head to the left to figure out the distribution
of orange glows. One at every second house.

The crows are usually here, squawking out their morning roll call,
but they are keeping dry in the thick of some evergreen.

The rain woke me up. In the city that always rains,
we haven’t had much of it lately. Some are waking up
to the gentle knocking of an old friend, one who rarely goes on vacation
and is back. Even Dad wouldn’t have minded this rain.

The glitter of wet gravel,
the silky reflection of the orange glow on the roof of the doghouse,
wetness, light
dancing in the dark and otherwise.

Dad never visited this house.
We moved here when he died.
Coincidentally.
Or by design—something knowing we would need a new start.
Yet this is where his ashes lie—
in a house he never knew in the city that always cries.

It’s the wrong season to remember Dad.
It wasn’t sunny much when he was here.
But the rain woke me up
to sit on my balcony, and listen.

5 Rules of Loving the Game of Creative Writing, For All Ages
1. There’s no right or wrong in writing your story, not even grammar or spelling (on the first draft anyway).
2. Write small. One word leads to another. Each word is a seed.

3. People are characters, even people in real life, even you! Write them how you see and hear them and yourself.

4. Use your five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. This is really fun to do when creating a scene. Carrying a notebook or journal wherever you go helps you jot down ideas that come to you, or interesting things that you see or conversations that you hear.

5. Have fun! This isn’t school writing. This is creative writing. Pay attention to your world and write about it.

*Optional Rule: write in a journal every day. This helps you to keep a record of your thoughts that you can use when you go to think about and write your stories.

Kindergarten and First Grade

1. Think of a story that you want to tell about your life. If you’re having a hard time of thinking of something, think about Culture Camp and the time you spent making friends and learning about Vietnamese culture. (3 minutes)

2. Now close your eyes and imagine your story played out on a big screen in a movie theatre. I’ll tell you when to open your eyes (3 minutes).

3. Open your eyes and right away, right down all the words you can think of to describe what you saw in the movie in your head. You can also draw a picture and write words to go along with it. (10 minutes).

4. Now take your words and pictures, and write at least three sentences to start your story. If you’re having trouble finding the words you want to write, ask me for help. (5 minutes)

Congratulations! You’ve started writing a story about your life. I want to read more. Set aside at least 20 minutes and do this little exercise a couple times a week. You’re on your way to being a published writer!

With the help of your parents, email me at brandy@rabbitfoolpress.com to share your stories, get writing advice, and ask me any questions you have about writing.

Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Grades

1. Brainstorm stories and ideas about your life. Write as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if the words are spelled correctly or anything like that. Just write as fast as your brain and hand will go. If you’re having a hard time of thinking of something, think about Culture Camp and the time you spent making friends and learning about Vietnamese culture. (5 minutes)

2. Look at your list and think about what from it you want to focus on writing at the moment. Perhaps it’s one thing on your list, or maybe you want to combine two or more things in a story. Hint: if you’re going to pick more than one thing from your list, they don’t necessarily have to be things that occur in the same time period. You can be a time traveller. Circle the things on your list that you want to write about now. Oh yeah…keep your list! You can use it later for more stories and even add to it. (5 minutes)

3. Now close your eyes and imagine your story played out on a big screen in a movie theatre. I’ll tell you when to open your eyes (5 minutes).

4. Open your eyes and right away, right down all the words you can think of to describe what you saw in the movie in your head. You can also draw a picture and write words to go along with it. (5 minutes).

5. Now take your words and pictures, and write at least five sentences to start your story. If you’re having trouble finding the words you want to write, ask me for help. (5 minutes)

Congratulations! You’ve started writing a story about your life. I want to read more. Set aside at least 25 minutes and do this little exercise a couple times a week. You’re on your way to being a published writer!

With the help of your parents, email me at brandy@rabbitfoolpress.com to share your stories, get writing advice, and ask me any questions you have about writing.

Sixth Grades and Beyond

The writing exercise that I describe above for younger children is quite honestly the basis of my particular process for creative writing but tailored toward their beginning language and writing skills and attention spans (not to say I have a bigger attention span than a second grader…). So I will repeat it here, but give you more time for each part of the exercise to develop your writing because I know you can do it. If I can do it, anybody can. 🙂

1. Brainstorm stories and ideas about your life. Write as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if the words are spelled correctly or anything like that. Just write as fast as your brain and hand will go. If you’re having a hard time of thinking of something, think about Culture Camp and the time you spent making friends and learning about Vietnamese culture. (10 minutes)

2. Look at your list and think about what from it you want to focus on writing at the moment. Perhaps it’s one thing on your list, or maybe you want to combine two or more things in a story. Hint: if you’re going to pick more than one thing from your list, they don’t necessarily have to be things that occur in the same time period. You can be a time traveller. Circle the things on your list that you want to write about now.. Oh yeah…keep your list! You can use it later for more stories and even add to it. (10 minutes)

3. Now close your eyes and imagine your story played out on a big screen in a movie theatre. I’ll tell you when to open your eyes (5-10 minutes).

4. Open your eyes and right away, right down all the words you can think of to describe what you saw in the movie in your head. You can also draw a picture and write words to go along with it. (10 minutes).

5. Now take your words and pictures, and write at least ten sentences to start your story. (10 minutes)

Congratulations! You’ve started writing a story about your life. I want to read more. Set aside at least 45 minutes and do this little exercise a couple times a week. You’re on your way to being a published writer!

Email me at brandy@rabbitfoolpress.com to share your stories, get writing advice, and ask me any questions you have about writing.

I was asked to be a presenter at this amazing Vietnam Culture Camp for adoptees from Vietnam and their families, through this incredible organization called the Catalyst Foundation. After only one day of activities and meeting some families, I’m blown away by what the people behind this organization do both here in North America and in Vietnam. My family and I are honoured to have been invited to be part of this community.

As part of my presentation tomorrow morning, I’m offering an optional writing exercise for parents to get their creative juices flowing while also reflecting the weight that storytelling has had on their lives. You can also give this exercise a try. So here’s the exercise.

♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️

As parents, we decide what stories we tell our children as we raise them. We also reflect on the stories our parents did or did not tell us when we were children. As we reflect on our childhood and what was told to us and what we found out despite the silences, we must consider how our past has influenced what decisions we make about what to pass on to our children. 
1. Brainstorm what stories that were told to you when you were growing up that stuck with you and made an impact.

2. Think about the questions you had about those stories but were too afraid or hesitant to ask. Write down these questions.

3. Why were you told these stories? Write down your thoughts.

4. Now think of things that weren’t talked about but of which you had a little knowledge. Did you try to find out more, or did you just keep these bits to yourself? Write about that.

5. Given all that you have written so far, consider how your childhood history of storytelling influences what you do or do not divulge to your children.

6. If you feel strongly about not sharing stories with your children, write about why that is. If you do share stories with your children, write about your reasons.

7. Write about some questions you anticipate your children having about their history and yours.

8. What is your goal or desired outcome for sharing stories?

9. Lastly, based on all that you have written thus far, I want you to write a creative nonfiction piece. Pick a story from your childhood and your reflection on it, and link it to how you plan on passing on a poignant story with your children. Be descriptive, vivid, and authentic. Use your five senses. Create dialogue. Watch the movie and slideshow in your mind in order to create scenes and settings. And don’t limit yourself to prose. If you have poetic leanings, go with that and write a poem. Or do a combination of genres. The only rule is to tap into the authenticity and poignancy of your story~~of how you took the stories in and how you’ll pass them on.

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