The Haunting of Inspiration

A mentor is a combination of patient teacher and great psychologist. They don’t just say, “Good, keep going”, they tell you what needs work, they answer craft questions, and they pay attention to your neuroses. I expect being mentored will feel like giving my work its strongest ally.

I’ve written about the (mis)adventures of a childhood divided between two countries and cultures – Taiwan and Canada. Paralleling that is the wider journey of a nuclear family that becomes divided by an ocean when the parents return to Taiwan in order to work, thus becoming an “astronaut family”, an unfortunate phenomenon that began in the 1980s.

My stories deal with dualities: the here-and-thereness of being rooted in two countries and cultures; the freedom and peril of growing up in a house without parents; desiring and eschewing parental love; longing to identify with a mainstream culture that stereotypes or rejects you.

I need help to pull in the larger theme of alienation between parents and children in astronaut families, what it means for individuals, families and society – without sounding like a sociology text. I may have too many themes, so I hope to gain clarity on which ones to pursue, to focus these stories into a tight collection.

The stories in my manuscript have haunted me all my life. I’ve tried suppressing them, ignoring them. They tend to be polite as new immigrants, content to be backgrounded for the most part. But they’re persistent too. So, I’ve decided to placate the ghosts once and for all by laying them down to rest on the page.

I try to write every morning, after breakfast and fifty jumping jacks. As the blood pumps, I churn through what I have to write that day. Then I get to work. If I’m on a roll, I’ll skip lunch. If I’m stumped, it’s time for a snack and run in the woods. I’ve learned it’s no use sitting there, having a staring contest with your stupid, stubborn sentence.

If I could choose an author to write my life story, it would be Kim Thúy! I met her at a book signing at the Vancouver Writers Festival. She’d just won the Governor General’s Award for her incredibly lean and lush work Ru. A long line of people had formed behind me but she didn’t rush our meeting. She asked what I was writing and seemed genuinely interested in my story. Her dedication to me was, “Hoping to read you in a near future”, an encouragement which buoys me to this day.

When I think about what I would make a writer’s life like if I were to rule an idealistic society, I think of this acronym:

W – write for the love of it

R – read every day

I – insist on beauty

T – truth, seek for

E – encourage a writing community; mentor and be mentored!

R – relish the process

Ten years from now, let’s hope Sticky Rice and Grilled Cheese will have been published, read and enjoyed by many who have known, or been a part of, an astronaut family and their oddball dysfunctions. I hope my book helps to dispel certain stereotypes about Asian immigrants and model minorities.

The lowest point will have been not knowing what to write after it. Just as despair sets in, new ideas will start flying. I’ll be working on one, two, why not three different writing projects simultaneously. In the midst of all that creative madness, a film studio will come begging for a screenplay of Sticky Rice and Grilled Cheese!