#TBT: Glamour Gal

I don’t normally do #TBT, but I figured that since I’ve gotten so much awesome feedback and reviews for my memoir, I’d give the readers a treat…the video that is mentioned in the book. And if you haven’t read the book yet, here is one of the highlights. Enjoy!

Lotsa Brandy For Sale


Buy these pieces of my brain.

It’s my birthday! Happy 39th to me! One way I’ve decided to celebrate is by making the Kindle version of my book free for a limited time. So tell all your friends, and if you haven’t already gotten a copy, go get yours now before the promotion period ends.

When I started the publishing journey with this book over two years ago, I was so excited to have numerous agents thrilled to represent my work. Even though I had all the skills and networks to have moderate success with publishing my own memoir, I decided to go the traditional route and have it sent out to publishers in the hopes of getting a decent contract. My agent has been incredible in guiding me through this process, and my book has landed in the laps of several reputable editors. However, as much as they loved the book, they could not get it past the true gatekeepers of the publishing industry–the marketing people. I was told that though my voice was fresh and raw and my story was compelling, the market already had too many “cancer memoirs.” My book was boiled down to those two words, and anything else that makes it unique, timely, and nuanced was made invisible, erased. Also, what these responses say to me is that the “cancer memoir” is done and over, nothing more to be said about it, we’ve heard these stories too much already, unless you’re a celebrity–which I find completely ridiculous. So I made the leap and decided to move forward with publishing the book through my publishing company, Rabbit Fool Press.

The one regret that I have with spending time going the traditional publishing route and not trusting my gut initially with self-publishing is that my father passed away before seeing the book in print. He was excited for me to write this and tell our family’s stories, but he died the day my agent told me that the book was ready to be sent out to the publishers. He did manage to read the first few chapters after he was diagnosed–and he laughed appreciatively. That was awesome. I’m glad he was at least able to do that.

So on my birthday, and in honour of my dad who passed away from cancer which was thought to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange, we are making the Kindle version available free for a limited time. If you agree that this story is worth being heard–that other cancer stories are worth being heard–then share this status with everyone you can, download the book, consider buying the paperback, ask your public library to purchase the book, teach the book, and come out to see me when I do a book tour in Spring 2015. This book’s success depends on grassroots efforts of the communities with which I am aligned–communities that I know all care about making silenced and untold stories known and heard.


Vietnam, February 2015

Rickshaws. Rice paddies. An old war. Napalm.
“The Vietnamese people are so nice, so accommodating,”
I’m always told,
White people reassuring me that my Vietnamese half isn’t inherently demonic,
like the American soldiers were told. No—
“They are not people. They are things that you must kill by any means.
They are not human.”
And that was Dad’s first memory of Vietnam.
Me—I don’t have memories yet, but I’m sure glad those people are so nice.

Eagle Brand medicated green oil. Chay-yaw. Buddhas and their altar. My ghost family.
“You’re American like your daddy,” Mom tells me. “Your sister—she Vietnam.”
I can’t prove otherwise,
my tongue and throat conspire against me when I speak Vietnamese as I know how.
But I try to show Mom how much I like durian…
just like White people who’ve been to Vietnam on vacation or for research,
how they say they’re experts in durian and nuoc mam. They tell me this
after they try to make small talk on planes, asking
“Where are you from?”
And I say, “I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but now I live in Canada.”
And they say, “No, but where are you really from?”

Alcohol. PTSD. Heaven and earth and reincarnation.
Temples 90 minutes away. Church with an outhouse down the road,
by the crick.
I don’t know how it’s going to be when I go.
I’ve gone there in my mind so many goddamn times,
my migraines and insomnia from all that jetlag catching up,
but I know it’s not the same.
I just know there’s a demon I have to face.
I don’t know if it’s me.
I don’t know what it is.

That porch swing, white paint chipping and flaking,
those two rusty chains and the hooks that hold them up,
the chains also hold up 90% certainty that we won’t crash
when we sit down, that we won’t splinter upon impact
on the oil-stained concrete…that swing swung us back and forth,
between the past in the back, almost hitting the cherry Chevy Nova parked
behind it, and the future at the front of our extended legs,
toes en pointe toward the hills basking in the orange ooze
of the sinking sleepy sun.

That porch swing was our time machine.
We got older and younger all at once with each launch.
Sometimes we became timeless,
or forever.
But we knew we’d always have to land at some point,
and get up,
and walk away.

Perfection of everything swung on that swing.
If I wanted to, if I could, I’d unhook the swing,
carry it across lands to find different rusty hooks to attach it to,
and it would be something “different,” as Pappy would say
in his sweet feathery husky twang,
to fly into the past and future in other spots,
but I would never be able to find that hill,
that sunset,
that cherry Chevy Nova and the oil stains the car tattooed
on the porch.
That swing, there, will always hold us up.
We’ll never fall down in time.

Houses, Homes #9: Pipes

His pipe collection. The walnut pipe holder for it.
Little curves to cradle the bowls, the stems held in place
in the two rows of three holes close to the handle. I know I’ll never smell anything
like that again—
the sweet earthiness of tobacco residue, the scorched wood, the plastic tips
where Dad’s lips would hug the stem in a tight embrace,
breathing in moments of calm, solace,
like when I put my face in my baby’s neck and inhale,
just like that.

Second-hand smoke didn’t exist in the 80s,
so I’d breathe along with Dad. He never told me to go away
when he needed to puff, and I’d watch mini plumes billow from the bowl
and out his mouth, a smoke snake trailing up and
disappearing into heaven.

Smoke lay in his beard. His bristly beard
that tickled my cheek. I can remember that tickle
but not the hug that brought me that close to him.

His pipe collection organised to be something that marked his days
from a particular time when tobacco came in a big tin can,
just like coffee. And I’d open the tobacco can just to smell,
like I would with the coffee. But Mom, she didn’t know

what those pipes were meant for
in this moment,
and now they are all lost, lost, lost,
and fallen. Probably broken, cracked, fractured,
buried in the earth somewhere with all the rest.

I wish I could hold a pipe in my palms,
holding the thing where his breath would pass in and out,
his breathing that he never thought anyone would care about,
but I do.

Brandy will be reading from her book What Doesn’t Kill Us on Thursday, October 30, at Heartwood Cafe in Vancouver. Don’t miss this special opportunity to preview her unpublished memoir, alongside a presentation by Mike Boehm, an American Vietnam War veteran who has been committed to doing humanitarian work and forging peace and reconciliation relationships and projects in Vietnam for over 20 years. If you are in the Vancouver area, you do not want to miss this!


Thunderstorms engulfed us
and we turned off our televisions because
the electricity was gonna go out anyway.
We huddled inside the living room,
my nose smashed against the window screen,
and we counted in our own ways in our heads.

The deafening boom, crack, the silence of the thought
of a falling tree,
the metallic cadence I didn’t want to end.

Dad sat in the chair and stared out
the window facing the road, his left hand
propping up his left cheek, his index finger and thumb a backwards L
beside his ear, the rest of his fingers piled up and resting
on his upper lip, which sometimes twitched in a
fragment of a prayer.

Mom kept a close eye on her flowers, kept saying she
hope they don’t die.

I ran out onto the porch, Mom yelling at me to stay inside,
but I didn’t listen and she didn’t follow.
Barefoot. I bounded along the edges of the porch
where the wind blew the rain into the perimeter,
creating dark jagged edges then rounded hills,
water shadows, storm prints,
I’d put my toes in them
and sat on the porch swing watching the whole valley
get baptized. Dips in the porch became warm puddles
under the swing, so that my feet touched the earth,
water, and air with each arc I made. And the air—

the air during a rain like that, there on that porch,
the earthy humidity from the concrete mixing with the crisp wetness
from the sky, all that in my nose,
it made me drunk before I even knew what that meant or felt like.

On the upswing, I prayed to God for lightning to strike right in front of me
but far enough away. Supernatural fireworks made me pump my legs
harder. I wanted to kick the ceiling.
Rainbows never made me feel like that.

On the downward swoop, I wondered if I should go back inside
with Mom and Dad and worry about the protection of flowers
and whatever else, or if I should stay there and pump harder and harder,
imploring the boom, flash, and rainfire to continue. The storm was the only thing
that could make us so quiet.

My soles skidded on the porch with the break in the clouds.
I heard Dad get out of the chair and mutter, “Well, that’s over.”
Mom came outside to check on her flowers.
I lay down on the swing, my head clunked on the white wooden seat slats,
the rattle of the chains reminding me to inhale the last part
of that thunderstorm air.


I just remembered how Mom always hovered over me while I was eating
when I was a kid, and how I used to hate it. The reason behind my
remembering is that I was just now staring at the Champ-o-Rado box on the table,
trying to translate “Naghahari ang Sarap!” based on what little I know
and context (“Healthy/Nutritious and Delicious”? Maybe not),
and on the bottom left corner of this box is a picture
of a mom hovering over her kid while she’s eating,
and they’re both smiling. It reminds me
of me and my mom. But we were never smiling.
Her hovering,
her watching. . .
It was like I could never escape,
even while eating.
Food was a punishment,
a threat,
a boring necessity.
Junk food was my first drug.
Anything I could shove into my face while watching tv by myself.
Crunchy, salty, fatty, full of chemicals—just like this healthy/nutritious
Champ-o-Rado. Sarap! And

My God.
It hits me.

We were never a happy family.

We had our happy moments, like going to Busch Gardens
or to the movies,
but even those memories are not framed without
hopelessness that no matter how hard we tried, we were never a happy family.

And now that Dad’s dead, we’re even worse.
He was The Knot that held us all together.
Now we’re just frays
blowing dangerously off into the wind in any direction,
barely attached to the place
we all used to be for 38 years.

A neighbour’s chimes bring me back
to the centre
out of this meditation.
My family loved chimes.
We had them on each side of our house,
to catch the music of all the winds.
I imagine each of us—the four of us—
smiling when we heard the chimes,
noticing them,
and it was quiet.

That was love.

It might have been one, two, or three fourths happiness,
not one whole. But

let’s use a puzzle metaphor instead.
Pieces of a puzzle never really fitting together,
but if you nudged them a bit,
close enough.


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