via Life on Hold
Posted onJune 7, 2020
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via Life on Hold
At the end of 2019 I looked back on the previous months and was happy and grateful for the publication of my memoir, the generous support of my friends during this milestone event, and the subsequent book events in Seattle, Portland, New York City, the Bronx, Santa Barbara, Kahului (Maui), and Honolulu.
I also looked forward to 2020 and the possibility of connecting to more readers at upcoming book events. The New Year appeared welcoming, and the Lunar New Year in late January offered a refresh button if needed.
No one will never forget this Year of the Rat aka the Year of the Pandemic.
The Year of the Rat is the beginning of a new 12-year cycle in the Chinese astrological calendar. The last Year of the Rat was 2008, which brought the Bush Great Recession. I couldn’t help recalling this time and wondered what 2020 would bring even though I had no reason to feel anything but optimistic. In 2007 I had achieved my financial goals and quit my job at the end of the year to take 2008 as a gap year between jobs, a sort of “sabbatical,” to travel to Mexico, Ecuador, Hawaii, and China, then return to Seattle to do
a job search in the fall. I traveled as planned and returned to a life-changing financial crisis; I remained unemployed, took early Social Security, and launched into a completely new draft of my memoir. Not at all what I had expected.
How quickly our lives can change.
The first case of COVID-19 was identified here in the Seattle area in late January, the first death in February. In mid-March, we were sheltering in place. Waves of anxiety have taken over my life as my activities became more restricted to contain the virus. For weeks I couldn’t focus to write anything. I haven’t posted anything here for months. I have been home alone for eleven weeks now and sorely miss my friends and socializing with them.
I am lucky to continue my tutoring job online, but it has been exhausting and difficult with various technical issues to contend with. Many have lost their jobs and the uncertainty of what will happen with this pandemic and with the economy is creating daily stress, perhaps much more than some realize.
Some days are okay, some not so much. Isolation blues, you know.
Last year I was out in the world promoting my book. I have to wonder if I had not had time to write a new manuscript in 2008, would I have had a book published in 2019 and become an author? So, as difficult as 2008 was, it gave me time to write a new manuscript.
It’s Week 12 of staying at home. These days, when I leave my apartment to go shopping or get take out, it’s almost an event. Without knowing it, in 2019 I was gathering a reservoir of aloha and good will to get me through this extremely difficult time.
And who knows? As horrible as things are now, perhaps we’ll all be able to look back someday and see the blessings that resulted from this time.
Surprised. I mistakenly thought that only writers or others in literary circles could appreciate how mind-blowing it is to have someone publish your words, the toil of many years, sometimes decades. Many friends and readers, many I didn’t know personally, have been almost as excited as I was.
Incredible odds. People don’t need to know the statistics of how many good writers there are vying for publication, how many new MFAs are getting their degrees in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction every year, how many more men are getting published than women. All of this is true. People get it. Getting a book published can be compared to lightning striking.
VIDA. However, if you want some numbers, check out this web site: VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. We Count. It’s a nonprofit that has been tracking forty literary journals and other reputable magazines since 2010. The annual VIDA Count documents gender disparities in publishing. Their numbers represent what is happening in the larger publishing world.
Write a book? Never. Never. Uh-uh. Committing to write a book didn’t play in my imagination. When I became a writer, I wrote short pieces. I could visualize vignettes, personal essays and poetry. Never a book.
Lightbulb. However, I started writing and something happened. I realized that my stories were not just about me. The voices of local people born and living in Hawai’i were few and far between. These voices are important in the story of America, that is, the United States of America. Millions of people have some connection to these islands. And yet, our stories are not known, not told. Stories and diverse voices are essential in understanding ourselves, our country, our world. My consciousness of the importance of literature expanded in the creative process.
Kūlia. Persevere. I kept writing. I completed a manuscript. I started to submit it in 2014 to various book contests and wrote query letters to various publishers. Moments of deep discouragement halted my momentum from time to time, but I kept revising and submitting my manuscript over the years until Willow Books contacted me in March 2018: I had won their book contest! Finally, a publisher! My book The Lava Never Sleeps would be in bookstores out in the world. It is available as a paperback and an e-book.
No matter the odds, perseverance can make all the difference. Luck is good. So is talent. However, those who persevere through rejection after rejection, through disappointment and despondency (believe me, I know it’s tough!), are more likely to achieve their goals, i.e. getting published!
If you have read my book The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir, you may find these photos provide visual references to the narrative.
While my father’s Chinatown store closed in the 1970s, the building remains and is now occupied by the very popular restaurant The Pig & the Lady and The Pacific Gateway Center. Hint: Reservations are highly recommended.
We had a most delicious lunch there! Even though the interior and entry have been completely remodeled, the original brick walls remain. I couldn’t help feeling nostalgia for all the times I had spent between those walls. See p. 29 for a description of Yuen Chong Co.
My dear friend Liz Aulsebrook joined me and Carol for lunch there. I’ve known Liz since the 1980s and she was one of my beta readers when I finished the very first draft of the memoir.
She recently retired, so we celebrated my book and her retirement!!
Dream cake! I described this lovely cake on p. 22. This is the cake display at Liliha Bakery at Macy’s in the Ala Moana Center. I really wanted a piece, but they only sell whole cakes.
The original bakery is located near my childhood neighborhood. This new location at the shopping center recently opened, a happy surprise!
My alma mater St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu continues its educational mission as established by Queen Emma. I am pleased that the school continues under strong leadership that ensures a curriculum that includes Hawaiian culture and prepares its girls for all career options. I refer to Priory on pages 66 and 161.
Class of 1967! Here is my graduation photo with my parents.
I describe the ancient voyaging canoes that brought the first people to Hawai’i; see p. 164. Reproduced in recent times to travel throughout the Pacific, this is a model on display at the Bishop Museum. The museum also displays an ancient paddle which indicate the ancestors of the Polynesians were from SE Asia; see p. 156.
Another dear friend, Lilette Subedi reviewed my manuscript to ensure my cultural references were appropriate. She also provided the ancient canoe chant and translation on p. 167. I have recited this chant at most of my readings to invoke the culture, reinforce the journey implied in my story, and emphasize the value of community.
At my Honolulu reading at Na Mea Hawai’i/ Native Books, she chanted a beautiful oli to welcome everyone and added a naughty Chinese ditty that I had never heard.
Finally, my travel buddy on my September trip to Maui and Honolulu was Carol Cummins, a long-time friend who was one of the original members of the Seattle women’s group I joined in 1988 (p. 110). This was her first trip to the islands, and she met my friends, classmates, and family, who welcomed her with genuine aloha spirit. I was happy to share an insider’s view of my beloved islands with her.
What a memorable trip for both of us!
Comedian Trevor Noah is a very funny guy. But he can be very serious too. His memoir Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood helped me understand apartheid, which he calls “apart-hate” for good reasons.
According to Noah, “Apartheid was perfect racism.”
He describes the horrors of this system:
In America you had the forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of those things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.
In other words, American racist policies contributed to the suffering and oppression of black South Africans in the twentieth century. This is a legacy of shame for all involved.
Noah was born in 1984, ironically in an Orwellian police state that was South Africa. His status was complicated because he was mixed race. This wasn’t supposed to happen with anti-miscegenation laws in place. As the offspring of an African mother and European father, Noah came into the world as evidence that a crime had been committed. He writes, “…[O]ne of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race.”
While his stories are hard-hitting, they’re also heart-warming. He deploys his humor strategically. Despite his struggles and hardships, I felt uplifted in recognizing that his story is actually about how the love of his fearless mother contributed to his survival and success.
In a racist U.S., mixed race people also face challenges. Not so much in Hawai’i although other racial issues persist.
Anti-miscegenation laws were designed to prevent different races, primarily Blacks and Whites in the U.S., from fraternizing socially and producing mixed-race children. Black people were not supposed to be equal to Whites; they weren’t supposed to be as human as Whites, so these laws were another attempt to dehumanize them, to mark them as “other.” In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled these laws were unconstitutional in the case of Loving v. Virginia.
Hawai’i was one of nine states that never enacted such laws. In any case, they could not have been enforced, especially between military personnel and the local population when hordes of white men arrived in the islands in the late 1930s in advance of a likely war with Japan.
James Jones’s novel From Here to Eternity features these relationships. While his depiction of local characters are flat and caricatures more than realistic, I believe he accurately describes the predictable racial tensions.
Another view of these racial tensions is recorded in Local Story: The Massie-Kahahawai Case and the Culture of History. In this book, John P. Rosa, professor of history at the University of Hawai’i, reveals the tragic consequences of racial conflict and the resulting racial injustice when military personnel accused several local boys of murder in the early 1930s, subsequently killing one of the boys.
According to Rosa, these events galvanized the different ethnic groups into what has become Hawai’i’s local culture. Hordes of white servicemen, a transient population, arrived from the mainland where segregation laws and racist attitudes toward nonwhites were in place. How the military conducted itself in this case was a precursor to events during World War II when martial law was imposed in Hawai’i. I believe a case can be made that such military control was racially motivated.
An undercurrent of tension in varying degrees between locals and White people continues today. Male White privilege that justified colonization of the islands and eventual removal of its queen in order control the government to promote business interests, as well as the above incidents, provide the context for such tensions.
Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019)
She made me think about our country’s dark history of slavery, the American identity tied to these atrocities and other acts of emotional and physical abuse against nonwhite Americans, and the legacy of these events. She made me think hard and deeply. Her words pierced my body, compelling me to comprehend the pain of those oppressed.
I don’t remember where I first heard about the novel Beloved, but I tried to read it twice and had to put it down. Morrison’s words were incomprehensible, full of such power and generational pain I was not accustomed to at the time.
In 1993, I was a working adult determined to complete my B.A. at the University of Washington, Bothell. I elected to take an Independent Study course on Black American Literature. Reading The Bluest Eye introduced me to Morrison’s literary ethos and gave me a context for appreciating and completing Beloved.
Here’s an excerpt from a response paper to Beloved for that class:
Can any form of violence, even one based on a mother’s love, be a real solution? In this novel, Sethe chooses one form of violence (death) over another (slavery) and ends up with another form of violence that harmed all the people she loved (Baby Suggs and her children) with alienation, fear, and mistrust. And yet, given the history of violence that is synonymous with slavery, which was the context for her decision, did Sethe really have any other choice? Furthermore, what does this history of violence against blacks say about America and present-day problems that black Americans confront?
Reading Morrison is often challenging. She asks readers important questions, some they’d rather not think about or might not have ever considered before. She requires critical thinking beyond her characters and stories, often pushing readers into uncomfortable places, forcing their minds and hearts to open in new ways.
Reading and re-reading her words are often necessary to appreciate the complexity of her characters and the unfolding story.
Morrison writes about black lives that hold true for many people of all colors. She appeals to our humanity while revealing our inhumanity to each other. Her truth-telling often promotes discomfort, yet it’s a necessary discomfort that can result in transformation. She gives us darkness so that we can recognize the light.
I, like so many, have been changed and blessed by Morrison and her fearless commitment to the truth about our violent history, women’s lives, and issues of equality that still haunt us.
In a Washington Post article (August 9, 2019), Michelle Obama says:
For me and for so many others, Toni Morrison was that first crack in the levee — the one who freed the truth about black lives, sending it rushing out into the world. She showed us the beauty in being our full selves, the necessity of embracing our complications and contradictions.
Here’s a link to an interview of Morrison with Pam Houston from Oprah.com: “Precious Moments a Writer Lives For.”
Note: Thank you to artist Nina Krebs for giving me permission to post this portrait–a painting/collage with book titles on Morrison’s blouse and excerpts from pages of her books haloed in the background.
NY Times journalist Moises Velasquez-Manoff wrote a thoughtful article about race in Hawai’i, specifically about mixed-race people. Regardless of the headline “Want to Be Less Racist? Move to Hawaii” (New York Times, June 28, 2019), Velasquez-Manoff does not paint Hawai’i as any utopia free of racial bias nor suggests that anyone should move there.
This discussion of mixed race people and multiracial identities is especially timely and instructive. He reminds readers that race is a “social construct,” a fabrication by humans, not nature, for the purpose of categorization, which then determines behavior between groups. Racism establishes hierarchy to promote economic and political self-interest, advantage, and power. These are important concepts to keep in mind as Americans battles over diversity vs homogeneity.
Hawai’i is a reminder about the value of diversity. And its people reflect this. In the islands, people are likely to refer to President Barack Obama as mixed race instead of African American. This acknowledges his dual heritage and genetics in both White and Black cultures. In contrast, most Americans want to categorize people as if a single label can define the whole person.
In my memoir, I face this American mindset and struggle with how to define myself. Chinese or American or Hawaiian? These are the cultures that impacted and defined me. I felt pressed to choose one of these labels to conform to American ideals and reject the others.
Consequently, mixed race people present a conundrum in American society. The blurring of recognizable physical markers in many mixed race people seriously subverts racist attitudes. However, questions like “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” are often tainted since White people don’t generally ask such questions of each other.
While the aloha spirit contributes to an ethos of racial harmony in the islands, equally important is the Hawaiian value of aloha ‘āina, or love of the land. People and land, including natural resources, are connected. If people take care of the land, the land will take care of them. This belief in mutual reciprocity is both simple and profound. Resources may seem unlimited, but they aren’t, especially in island communities.
This is where Hawaiian and local island cultural values diverge from White cultural values—American capitalism that privileges White males and justified colonialism. By no means are Hawai’i’s local communities devoid of conflict; wherever humans cohabitate, there will be conflict. However, island people may be more conscious about the need for conflict resolution. There are incentives, or a “geographic motivation” since islands are generally small.
Velasquez-Manoff has done his research to begin an important conversation. Hawai’i is special to many people. Their racial diversity and acceptance of mixed race people offer additional reasons for why this is so.
Reader responses to this article can be found at this link: Opinion | Is Hawaii’s Racial Harmony a Myth?
Someone wants to publish your manuscript. Hooray! Break out the champagne and confetti! It’s every writer’s dream. The book is tangible proof of all your hard work. It’s a BIG moment!
As the publication date approaches, the worry begins. Will people buy the book? Will they like it?
The author does her best setting up book events and readings, asking for book reviews, using social media. She taps into her networks and informs her various communities about her book being published.
My communities include North Seattle College where I tutor, various writing groups (Hedgebrook, my personal writing group called The Cake Quartet, It’s About Time Reading Series, Jack Straw Writers Program, other writers I’ve met at various conferences), the ta’i chi group at Lake Forest Park, residents in my apartment building, my mahjongg group. I was surprised when I listed these various groups and began reaching out to inform them about my book. They were excited for me and eager to support my book.
I printed out promotional postcards and informational flyers and distributed them. I also gave them to friends to give to their friends.
So far, I’ve promoted my book in Portland, Seattle, and New York. I recently did a reading at Elliott Bay Book Co. here in Seattle. This historic bookstore is a literary icon, so I was very pleased to schedule this event!
Authors can do a lot.
However, there’s also a lot that’s out of their control. For example, placement of books on book shelves is up to the book store.
The more visible the book is, the better the odds for book sales. Because I did an event at Elliot Bay, they placed my book on the shelf for their book events. The top shelf is pretty nice placement! (I’m aware that this will change as more current events occur, but I can say I was on the top shelf at Elliott Bay, even if only for a short time!)
At Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, I’ve been on their bestsellers shelf since early June, at least that’s when one of my friends spotted it and informed me. I am
the store’s #5 bestselling book! Very cool for a debut book and non-professional in marketing. I guess networking works!
Here’s something else I do. I prepare for each book event with the intention to give my best reading. I hope to bring a piece of Hawai’i into the room, to interest the audience enough so they buy a book or two. Maybe for gifts.
I want bookstores to sell books, especially my book!
I arrive early so I can personalize the podium. Since I like colors, I bring a few things from home. A colorful cloth that evokes the tropics or a brightly feathered hula implement. When the audience walks in the room, they will immediately get a personal glimpse of who I am when they look at the front of the room.
Testing the mic and getting a sense of the room are also important tasks to ensure my comfort.
Bookstores and booksellers are an author’s friends. It’s important to have good relationships with them. I send thank you cards after each reading and let them know I appreciate what they do, that they’ve made the time to promote my book. After all, we are partners in this book business.
My book is now available as e-books in all formats. It’s wonderful to offer these options to readers.However, I’m sorry I cannot sign e-books.
It’s at book events, whether at stores, schools, libraries, or private homes, where I get to meet my readers. It’s very moving, both humbling and exhilarating, to see the faces of readers who have spent time with and money for my book, especially when they have connected with some part of my story.
Being an author requires marketing and promoting your book. It’s another side of myself I am getting to know. I am still not completely comfortable with this New Self, who’s always focused on her book, but so far she is behaving herself and not being totally obnoxious!
It feels like the cells of my body are rearranging themselves to accommodate this New Self. My old self did not feel comfortable in the spotlight, but would gladly support others to take the center of attention.
At AWP in March, I was handing out my publicity postcards to people I’d just met at the Portland Convention Center, leaving them on information tables, and so on. I had to make self-promotion part of my daily life.
I first went public as an author of The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir at Passages Bookshop in Portland to a SRO crowd in late March. The reading featured several Willow Books authors at an off-site event during the conference.
Having printed lots of postcards to help promote my memoir, I unabashedly distributed them. The book cover is visually attractive and I hoped it would get people’s attention and generate interest in the book.
I was nervous about Seattle book launch scheduled for Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park on May 2. Since May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I wanted to connect my book to this national cultural observation. It seemed to make sense even though API Heritage Month is not hugely recognized.
I wasn’t sure who would actually show up although I was talking to people in all my various communities. And, yes, handing out postcards.
I planned and rehearsed my reading.
I made arrangements to serve island-style snacks like taro chips, mocha crunch, coconut candy, and butter mochi cake. Hawai’i people love their snacks! My friends helped me with the shopping and displaying/arranging the snacks for the reading with table cloths, ti leaves, plumeria blossoms.
As more and more people arrived, additional chairs had to be added to the original 40 already set up.
It felt overwhelming: So many people wanted to support me and my book. Longtime friends, my mahjongg sisters, colleagues at North Seattle College, people in my tai chi group, my neighbors in the apartment building where I live, and of course my writing friends.
Writing friends in Santa Barbara and Atlanta sent a bouquet of flowers. My Seattle friends surprised me with several lei, which touched me very much.
Very humbled and grateful for the SRO crowd standing in the aisles between bookshelves, I began the reading with an ancient canoe chant. I felt the aloha in the room during my reading and later as I signed books.
A friend came over from Pt. Townsend. Other
friends came from the Eastside whom I had not seen in decades. It was a wonderful evening of surprises! I could not have wished for a better book launch and celebration for my book.
A definite celebration because people understand how dang hard it is to get published by any traditional press. It can take years, which it did for me.
Here’s the thing. There are no guarantees when you’re a writer. You can only keep writing, keep learning your craft, keep submitting, ride the emotional roller-coaster, and just keep going. Persevere is the mantra if a writer wants to become an author. Or as they say in Hawaiian: Kulia!
Whether you call it Year of the Pig (a more gentle animal) or Year of the Boar (a wild animal with sharp tusks), this animal marks the end of 12-year cycle in Chinese astrology. A new cycle starts next year with the Year of the Rat.
The Lunar New Year began on February 5 with friends and family getting gathering for dinners to celebrate a new beginning. I appreciate having another chance for a fresh start. I celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1, then I celebrate the Lunar New Year whenever it falls according to the Chinese calendar. Being Chinese American, I can draw on both cultures for multiple celebrations!
We in the Pacific NW will not likely forget the first few weeks of this lunar year. It’s unusual snow and freezing weather kept most of us indoors and off the roads for several days. I will remember it as the year of the “Snow Pig.”
When I was growing up in Honolulu, Dad had a store in Chinatown, Yuen Chong Co., Ltd. Because it was a retail and wholesale business, Chinese New Year was very busy, with sales to both store customers and Chinese restaurants. Crowds thronged the stores and sidewalks in Chinatown to shop for gifts, buy prepared food from various temporary stalls set up in the streets by various Chinese family associations, and be part of the festivities. Thousands of firecrackers were burned for good luck at each business, creating clouds of acrid smoke in the streets.
Here’s a brief excerpt from my memoir The Lava Never Sleeps that recalls the excitement of this holiday.
One of the busiest times was Chinese New Year. The Chinese community purchased ingredients for special holiday dishes, firecrackers, and presents, while restaurants increased their orders to prepare for New Year dinner parties. Our entire family descended on the store to witness the community celebration and absorb all the good luck and excitement floating through Chinatown. At night, streets filled with people waiting for the many-legged lion amid a cacophony of firecrackers, gongs, and drums that accompanied the dancing lion, which stopped at each business. Both were essential for good luck in the Lunar New Year. All the activity excited and frightened me. The smoke from the firecrackers burned my throat and eyes. The lion was huge, flapping its large gaping mouth and directing its large eyes at me. I had to be carried to see above everyone’s heads, but when the lion looked at me, I covered my eyes. Even though the black slacks of the teenage boys and girls, who brought this mythical creature to life, were visible, the wagging lion’s head seemed enormous and all-too-real.
Happy Lunar New Year to all! May the year bring good health and prosperity to you!