Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be interviewed by veteran Ed Ruckle, who has graciously and generously taken on this project of bringing awareness to the tragedy of children of Vietnam War veterans who suffer from illnesses, thanks to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange.

Ed told me that he feels that since he’s been blessed with good health all his life, he should help out the next generation, who battles from debilitating illnesses, with no help with medical expenses whatsoever or acknowledgement of culpability from the US government. I applaud and respect Ed for his continuing efforts. And as it turns out, Ed is also a dual Canadian/American like me, who also lived in California for some time! We found out we have a lot in common. His cousin also owns the popular Lebanese chain, Nuba, in Vancouver!

I will also be doing a podcast about my memoir, What Doesn’t Kill Us, with Ed, as well as talk about my forthcoming memoir, 17 Days. More about that soon!

For now, check out this interview. I hope you find it interesting and informative.

If you’re interested after watching my video, take a look at Ed’s channel and check out the interviews with other children of vets: Lori, Melissa, and Josh. ❤️

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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.

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My whole body hurt. The pain thundered in my head.
Writhing, pulling pillows over my eyes, trying to lay
softness over the inner beating I was taking
like a mother trying to soothe a child with hushes
and hugs when the child’s knee is torn open,
bloody and full of pebbles,
my head—my bloody fucking head crowded with
so much pain, I had to give it an 8.

Back to the Pain Scale. How familiar I am
with this “universal” scale of measurement, yet
how perplexing it is, still. The Pain Scale.

“How much pain are you in, on a scale of 1-10?”
I’m in pain, and I’m supposed to give you a computation/
quantification of this pain. “I feel a 7.”
What’s a 7 anyway?

Three babies, one cancer diagnosis, ten surgeries,
and I’m-not-going-to-count-how-many friends I’ve watched dying—
none of that made me understand The Pain Scale until Day 2.

Were we truly on the cusp of spring, or still courting it to fight
past the stubborn frigidity of mid-March? I know it was that
fickle overcast in-between weather that Mom and I walked out of
and into the hallway of the first floor,
a first floor unlike normal hospitals that are new, sterile,
adorned with plaques announcing the names of the big donors
who made possible their disaster-ready modernization.
This hallway: a grey cement vein through a building
that hadn’t been touched since the 70s.
After all, it was, it is, one of those hospitals of the forgotten
in a country that always claims to never forget.

Around the dimly lit corner, Mom and I took the elevator up
to Camp Courage, to Dad’s room where he lay against all wishes,
shackled by tubes and tanks.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s your pain?” Dr. Rachael asked.
And there it was, the gesture I myself have made so many times:
the shoulder-shrugging, wrinkled-nose expression made during
an exercise of best-guess approximation, like we’re suppose to
rate Miss America on her talent portion, that is to say,
beauty (and how she walks) is in the eye of the beholder.
Isn’t pain as well?

Then she showed us a picture.
Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 8.59.35 AM

“Forget numbers,” she said. “Which face is you?”

Dad reached out his shaky finger to the sad face next to the teary one.

“So about an 8,” she said, ordering meds accordingly.

I scribbled on the back of Dad’s breakfast menu:
FullSizeRender (1)

Dad nodded and smiled. “Nice try, Dad,” I said.
Dr. Rachael said Dad could go home when his pain was a 6. Just 2 points less.

But 2 points. This wasn’t basketball. This was cancer. And there was the faulty nature
of numbers and pain.

Still, Dad was shooting for a 6. Or the less orangey-yellowy, less frowning face.

We’d start to understand The Pain Scale between us, when I would ask
and he would answer, until he couldn’t say numbers anymore,
when for all of us, it became a pain without faces, without numbers.

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Mark your calendars, Vancouverites and visitors to our wonderful city! Thursday, January 15, 2015 will be a night to remember, as I read from What Doesn’t Kill Us, as well as share new work from 17 Days, my work-in-progress that’s the sequel to WDKU. In addition, jazz musician Laurel Murphy will be joining me and performing songs from her just-released and much-anticipated CD, When I Was a Bird. A portion of the sales from the my book and Laurel’s CD will be donated to Callanish Society, a small non-profit organization that serves individuals and families dealing with cancer. Please join us for this special event, bring your family and friends, and spread the word! Happy Holidays!



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Buy these pieces of my brain.

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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.


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