Monthly Archives: June 2010

It takes passion, they say

And that I seem to have in spades. I had, what some might describe as an insane, drive to get us to Vietnam. Twice. And now it’s on for the book. It will get finished. I will have a rough draft done by the end of summer.

SheWrites has just announced a new contest for unpublished non-fiction/memoir writers who have works in-progress. That’s ME! They’re offering a bunch of different rewards for the final winner, helping her to develop the best proposal/query possible. I certainly could use the help and it is a good impetus for me to keep working on what I’ve got. More info here.

Visit She Writes

Today I was able to get the first half of another chapter done. Up to nearly 60,000 words and about half done (maybe a tad more) with the story. It’s getting to the really stressful part of our adventure and while I thought it might be fun to write, I’m finding it difficult to relive those moments. I was determined, but scared and feeling more alone than I had in a very long time.

But I’ll struggle through it and make it back to the parts that made me really happy to be in Vietnam.

slow and steady wins the race

I was blessed with sunshine and the company of a dear friend this weekend and in the end I came home with four chapter outlines, a narrative arc, a tentative ending and, even, a completed chapter. I got to write about my experience with the fortune teller in Tam Ky.

Three years later his predictions still have not come true: I’m still single and don’t even have a Chinese boyfriend, let alone a Chinese husband. I also haven’t been to jail. He was right about the traveling apart; living abroad is good for me.

So are long weekends at the beach.

three weeks is all we have

All we have to plan this trip, but so far we’re doing all right. I’ve got the car rental taken care of and reservations for the first two nights of camping, then we’ll be lucky enough to stay with friends and family throughout California.

Yesterday I trekked it down to the central library (a trek indeed when live out of the city proper and you don’t have a car) and picked up a couple of travel guides for Southwest USA and for California. Strange to look at guidebooks designed for foreigners, but as I read through them I realized that the Arizona, New Mexico, Utah area is all foreign to me, too. Audrey was finally getting excited about it and over the next week we will be marking the map with places to visit. Must-sees. If Audrey has any say in it, there will be plenty of camping, but I’m pretty sure Stuart is going to veto it as often as possible. We’ll see… I think that final week is going to be spent in a tent.

Oh and I found out about that Skywalk where, heaven help me, you can look through the glass bottom to see the Grand Canyon gaping beneath you… yeah, it’s about $85 each with all the different fees. Not going to happen and frankly, I’m relieved. I’ll do almost anything for my kids, but that one was going to require some serious panic-quelling.

Personally, I can’t wait to finally see the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.
photo from DesertUSA.com

synopsizing is hard

So I’ve spent two days trying to coalesce the major events and themes of my book into a readable synopsis and still I’m so unhappy with it. There are bits that I think are good, but things that I know are not quite right and it’s killing me. There are so many bits and pieces of what I wanted to do/prove/be by going on our adventure and I’m having a difficult time narrowing it down. There’s the whole theme of single parenting, lost love, seeking adventure, finding home, shifting life paths, and understanding what it really means to love. There’s more, too, like international adoption and colonialism and classism and too much to include. But I keep trying.

The next three days are pure writing, editing, figuring out some sort of plan for this monster so I can get it finished without getting too much more unwieldy. Hopefully I’ll come back to town with a well-written synopsis, a complete story outline and even some chapters written. Here’s to some hard work…

memoir/memories

Writing this book constantly gives me moments to relive and every time that a memory hits me particularly hard, it surprises me. Today I wrote about saying goodbye to a fellow volunteer and more so about having to watch as my daughter suffered the pain of having to say goodbye forever to someone she’d truly grown to love. I wrote and I cried and I felt that same guilt all over again. I suppose it’s good for me and for the writing, adding a depth of reality to things.

And sometimes I wonder if the reliving of the moments is part of why I’ve embarked on this endeavor to write my story, our story. I never want to lose those lovely moments when my heart was filled with love for my children, for the orphans, for the country. But to remember those, I have to remember the sad times, the scary times, the mother-guilt that pervades so much of what I do. I have to feel those moments again, too, as I write. I don’t like it, but I think it has to be done.

pacifying the soul

I don’t know what reminded me of them, but for some reason the band This Mortal Coil came to mind today and I couldn’t shake it. I missed their album Filigree and Shadow so much I actually bought it.

Then I sat there for the next hour, bathing in it, drowning at times, and wondering just what it is that makes me feel so blissfully content.

Sad Song of Yellow Skin

A poignant film by Michael Rubbo:

Watch the movie on the NFB/CA website

“A film about the people of Saigon told through the experiences of three young American journalists who, in 1970, explored the consequences of war and of the American presence in Vietnam. It is not a film about the Vietnam War, but about the people who lived on the fringe of battle. The views of the city are arresting, but away from the shrines and the open-air markets lies another city, swollen with refugees and war orphans, where every inch of habitable space is coveted.”

ch-ch-changes again

Changes this time are only to the blog as I transition things over a bit at a time until this blog features some of the better posts (but not all of them). I want this site to be both informational and inspirational.

As I write my book about our travels, and re-read blog posts and journal entries, I’m often surprised at what we managed to deal with and I want to share those moments with the readers.

So please, bear with me as I get it moved and sorted.

Until then…. any tips on making a trip to the Southwest really enjoyable for a couple of teens?

Tam Biet, Em Be (an excerpt)

I have a reading this evening at Marylhurst University, and I’ve managed to whittle what had been a chapter down to two pages to read aloud:

Not one of the two dozen children who live at the baby orphanage come out to greet us when Jo and I ride in, ringing our bike bells in typical greeting. The buildings are eerily quiet. The play yard is empty. We park our bicycles in the shade of the fig tree that grows wide and heavy near the gates, then wait.

My children—Stuart and Audrey—are delivered by Mr. Hanh in his little Fiat, along with our interpreter Yen.

“Where are all the little ones?” I ask Yen as we walk through the barren play yard.

“They’re coming,” she assures us and slips off her shoes to enter the baby room. Stuart, Audrey and I follow. A few of the babies have been here for months, including Fat Baby, who quickly became a favorite with his eager grin, but a new baby shows up every other week or so. Today there is another: a tiny little girl born just yesterday. I ask Yen the birth date twice assuming the workers had misunderstood and were saying she had arrived at the orphanage yesterday. “No, born yesterday. Came here this morning.”

She still has that silky down of a newborn across the top of her ears. In the creases of her neck, the waxy residue of birth hasn’t been washed away. And her swollen eyelids open one at a time, unable to coordinate them.

“What happened to her mother?” Yen translates the question for me and the worker pantomimes tossing something off to the side as she answers in Vietnamese.

“She didn’t want the baby. Too young,” Yen tells me.

Lifting the mosquito net that covers the baby’s restless form, I carefully slide one hand beneath her neck and another under her rear then lift her to my chest. The workers watch me, smiling and one touches my shoulder. “Mẹ,” she say and pats the baby’s back. She smiles at Audrey sitting on the bed behind me and pats my shoulder. “Mẹ.”

I nod, smile and sway with the tiny baby. Would I take her if I could? I’m not sure how I could choose just one. How could I leave Fat Baby here? Or Lan who likes to snuggle on my lap and sing me songs in Vietnamese? If I took her, though, I’d have to bring along her brother Tu and sister Lieu. Then there’s still Audrey’s friend, Trinh and the Three Musketeers, a trio of kindergarten-age rabble-rousers who adore Stuart. There is no way to choose, no way to take them all, even though I would if I could. I’d take them and love them and give them all I had. The reality is that I can’t afford to adopt one, let alone a dozen. This time here is all I can give them.

From the play yard outside the baby room, I can hear the children running in and when I go to see what’s happening, they are lining up in two neat rows. Instead of the broken plastic shoes and mismatched, worn clothes they usually wear, each is wearing a pristine outfit with new shoes and socks. The girls line up, ruffles bumping into one another. They each wear sandals with white socks and against their umber skin the white is striking. All the boys are wearing long knit pants with matching t-shirts, sports socks and tennis shoes. They look nothing like we see them everyday. I’m not sure why until the government van pulls up to the front of the orphanage.

I look at Yen whose joined me just outside the baby room. “An adoption?”

“Yes, Hung and Mai are going to America.”

“Really? Together?” They aren’t sisters, so it surprises me that a family would take both.

Yen nods and turns back to watch as the Vietnamese officials climb out of the van and welcome the Caucasian couple to the Quang Nam Baby Orphanage. They are tall and blonde, a full head taller than their hosts. With wide-open eyes, they are silently brought up the stairs and onto the landing above the play area where the children are all still perfectly lined up with the half-dozen workers standing behind them. From across the way I can hear the government official struggling in English, but I can’t quite understand him. He has a broad salesman grin as he shows off the children. One of the workers, in a crisp white uniform, brings Mai and Hung forward to meet their new parents.

I’m still holding the baby girl, still swaying, as I watch the Western woman. Her face brightens into a smile as she kneels to bring the girls into her arms. Her long, blonde hair drapes over the cropped black hair of Mai. Both young girls stand stiff.

Rocking the baby, the clean smell of a newborn filling my air, the memory of my own children’s births overwhelm me. I remember the moment 14 years ago that Stuart, red from crying his way into the world, was handed to me, a young idealistic 22-year-old—the instant I realized that I was a mother. The memories flood me and I wonder if this American mother feels the same as she embraces 8-year-old Mai in one arm and 7-year-old Hung in the other. I cry tears of joy for her, for her husband standing awkwardly beside her, and for their new ‘parent’ status. Then I notice the workers, wiping away tears, too.

The girls have been at the orphanage for several years now. They call the workers “Mẹ,” mother in Vietnamese. They will be missed in the days, months and years to come. Everyone knows they won’t be coming back to visit and it’s a bittersweet farewell. In America, Mai and Hung will have their own clothes. They will have soft blankets and they won’t have to survive on rice porridge and fruit. They will go to school. They will have a family. And yet, as they head off to more prosperous lands, they will leave behind their friends, their culture, their language, and the women who loved them the best they could.

an orphanage mother with a new infant and Fat Baby