heyjamie

Jamie Jo Hoang - Author & World Traveler

Category: DoThings (page 2 of 4)

Overpasses


One minute over the 5

Photo taken by Chris Collins

I hate to run, but I love to walk. The sheer thought of walking sends calm, reassuring messages to my normally anxious body. If I’m walking, even with no particular destination in mind, I can convince myself I am accomplishing something with that time. The same cannot be said for running on a treadmill or any other likewise piece of gym equipment.

So the other day, as I was wandering toward downtown Burbank, I came across a freeway overpass. It was late, maybe 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., so the sky was a dark blue and the cars whizzing by were nothing more than streaks of light. As I stood there watching the world speed past, I felt hypnotized. The universe had somehow found a way to show me what I had been feeling for so many months.

As writers, we dive into story so deep sometimes that we forget we still have to live in the realm of reality. Sometimes when I’m able to venture so far into the minds of my characters–think Being John Malkovich–that I get lost in my story, I may not speak to anyone for 48 hours. Tapping into that inner creativity is like being on some sort of drug: it’s addictive because it’s euphoric. But the feeling doesn’t last long; in fact, most days are plagued with “writer’s block”, which is like a mental prison without a judicial system or public defender to bail me out.

Those moments, the ones where I feel like I’m stuck in a kind of purgatory of thought, are like standing on that freeway overpass. Everyone below seems to be going somewhere–home from work, to a movie, out to dinner–and their lives are shifting so fast that by the time I register their existence, they’ve already vanished into a streak of red taillights.

I’ve spent two years on this book idly paying attention to the events happening around me (marriage, babies, graduate school, job promotions). Life seemed to move at the same speed as my fictional characters. Both seemed to develop and move forward, while I stood in-between the two worlds, unable to fully join either side. This is what being a novice writer feels like (and maybe a professional too, but I cannot vouch for them), and it’s terrifying.

But as I stood on that freeway overpass looking down on hundreds of cars as they flashed by, I realized I felt fortunate to be not moving, at least for the moment. I got be the girl standing at the top of that overpass, concocting theories about the lives they led in funny and interesting ways. I might even be the story someone re-told later that day. Someone below, for example, might see me and be inspired to write a thriller about a kick-ass girl getting ready to leap over the overpass railing and onto a moving car. To inspire a spark of creativity simply by being part of the world is the kind of cosmic karma that we both put out and wait to receive. Writing is about standing still as much as it is about chasing a story. Because we writer’s are the mere vessels through which creativity passes and sometimes not moving is how we find the great narratives.

On the Subject of Writing


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“Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” — Gene Fowler

I took a photo of that quote for Instagram and blasted it out to my followers, not thinking much more about it. But, as I wake up every morning to a pile of edits for the 128th draft of my first novel, the quote nags at me. Writing is hard. No one will blame you if you just give up. The devil is always sitting on my shoulder.

Writing is an exercise, and every day I have to remind myself of that. I read books– lots of them. When I fly through them in two days, I always think, Man, will I ever be this good? But writing is like running a marathon: no one starts out running one mile the first day and 26.1 the next. A typical training schedule consists of 16 weeks of 3-5 runs per week. Sometimes a 10 mile run will be followed by a two mile run. Writing is the same way. I write like a madwoman for two days, hit writer’s block, spend four hours with a blinking cursor on the screen, and I backslide to the beginning. I am not a marathon runner, but I feel their plight.

For me, reading is like watching others cross the finish line far off on the distance and wondering how long it will be before I pass through any kind of checkered flag of my own.

I read two books last month, Shantaram and The Fault in Our Stars. They were two completely different books for two completely different audiences–each considered to be a masterpiece of its genre. Shantaram is hard to put down because, for the vast majority of us who have never been to prison, Lin’s life and exploits are so different from our own. In 900 pages of fast-paced, vulgar writing, he gives us a glimpse into the life of a fugitive within the framework of a fictional story. For two weeks, I read at night after long days of editing and lamented on all the things his book had that mine didn’t.

In general, I have a rule that when I write I do not read. (Unfortunately, another rule I live by is to break rules as often as possible.) There were, and are, so many problems with my book–from story structure to character development–that it seemed pointless to continuing chipping away at it. So, I downloaded The Fault in Our Stars. The author, John Green, is part of this Nerdfighter online presence and his book is very clearly marketed to the Young Adult population. I thought that this book would be a confidence booster. Wrong.

Green’s audience may be young, but he doles out some serious and heavy medicine in The Fault in our Stars, and in two days of non-stop reading (clocked in as “research” for my writing), I completed this audacious and witty “Juno”-style book about two teenagers living with the knowledge that they will die too soon. Like I said, heavy. The story is fictional, as Green mentions in his prologue and again in his Special Thanks, but it gives a voice to a small niche of the population who are told that death will be a landmark before many others. “You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence,” Hazel, the main character, reflects–wise beyond her years. I finished the book at 2:00 a.m. last night.

At 9:00 a.m. this morning, I stared at a blank screen, with a stack of notes 400 pages deep, and waited for the blood to form on my forehead. I waited for it to exude through the pores of my skin in profuse quantities as fear gripped me and I began the day as I always do: with a blank screen and the vague hope that hundreds of words strung together in fierce combinations will make their way onto the screen and into my own fictional novel.

Moments that Cultivate Big Change


Be Bold, Keep Moving Up

I was doing research for a blog post I was asked to write on food when I came across a video that I couldn’t stop watching. The clip was from Michael Buble’s tour in 2010 and watching it reminded me of a time when I was young and believed in impossible dreams.

The world I grew up in wasn’t horrible but let’s just say it was more akin to The Wire than Hannah Montana. I spent most of my time outside of school, doing my homework, in the back alley of my parents billiard–there’s nothing like a desolate ally to make kids ask for more challenging math problems. Hollywood was a pipe dream, but one that I thought about incessantly. On some crazy level I was sure that one day I’d be hanging out with my friends on the set of Friends.

Of course once I got older, I came to my senses and stopped watching TV. The revolution on learning hadn’t yet been developed and a feasible route for me was to study medicine. Unlike most kids I actually did enjoy the sciences and loved learning about DNA and Mitosis. It wasn’t a tortuous choice but a practical one that promised stability as well as upward mobility–the American dream for all immigrant families. The only problem was, the dreamer in me wanted more.

I had just gotten out of a statistics class in South Campus (an imaginary equator divided the liberal arts and the sciences into North and South campuses respectively) and I had some time to kill so I wandered over to the Sculpture Gardens, which acted as the front lawn to UCLA’s renowned film school. Posters like: The Godfather, Apollo 13, Forest Gump, and Sideways, lined the walls as a testament to the successes of the school’s alumnus. As soon as I’d stepped foot in the door I could feel my childhood dreams resurfacing, and walking into the building felt like a sign that I couldn’t ignore.

In some ways film school imitated life for me, because past the movie posters in the lobby the rest of the building looked like a worn-down warehouse. For a place that was supposed to spawn creativity, the decor could not have been any more depressing. And in the business of entertainment, behind what we saw on screen the industry was also pretty bleak. In every conversation I had in the six years following film school negativity far outweighed the positives, and like film school I got a bit lost in the cold, unwelcoming hallways.

I walked away from the industry having barely entered into it fully and set off to pursue my true passion–story. For the most part I am completely content with my day-to-day work, but there are some days where self-doubt and fear crawl up and threaten to strangle my creativity. Today was one of those days.

So when I came across this video of Michael Buble saying to a 15 year-old boy, “Come up here for a moment. Come up here for a moment because I remember being your age,” all of those daydreams about living in TV Land came rushing back to me. Then, Buble reacted so fervently to Sam’s voice, and I felt the chains of fear loosen. I didn’t even know the kid but I was so damn happy for him because it felt like I was watching someone beat the odds and trump cynicism.

Moments like that cultivate big change, and as someone in the midst of chasing her dreams I felt like Sam’s victory was mine as well. It was a combination of someone (his Mom) believing in him enough to boldly interrupt Buble and the wild praise Sam received from his idol. If Sam wasn’t pursuing a career in singing before, he definitely was after this duet. What’s even better was the magic was two-fold: Buble probably changed the trajectory of Sam’s life and Sam gave Buble a spontaneous moment in concert history that added to and solidified his popularity among fans.

What I took away from the moment was this: If the equation for success truly is hard work meeting opportunity, then all we have to do is the stay the course and wait for the moment we get to get on stage and belt one out for the world.

 

 

Being Influenced by Andrew Bird


Andrew Bird @ the House of Blues Houston

I went to an Andrew Bird concert the other day and I was blown away by his musical ability. The guy played, a violin, guitar, and xylophone while operating a looping mechanism via a foot pedal. His small band consisting of two guitarists, a keyboardist, and himself reminded me of Robert Rodriguez—the Rebel without a Crew. He had a gift. An ear for music…a natural talent. I knew then that I would never become a musician.

Three years ago, I walked into a Guitar Center store and dropped $750 on a fully weighted 88-key keyboard. They threw in a foot pedal and some sheet music and all of a sudden I was a beginner musician. I found a piano teacher who I liked and I set out to exercise my fingers.

We met once a week for half an hour and then he gave me homework assignments, which I poured myself into, but then he introduced me to the metronome. Designed to help musicians keep the beat it completely threw me out of wack. I couldn’t keep up and, consequently, we dropped the metronome.

I made a career change, but I wanted to stay dedicated so I lugged the heavy instrument 1500 miles from Los Angeles to Houston. My one-year anniversary in Houston was two months ago, and I have yet to touch my oh-so-special keyboard. And after witnessing Andrew Bird’s performance I conceded to the fact that I probably never would.

Anyone who has sang Karaoke with me can testify to the fact that I’m tone deaf. I cannot sing, and no amount of training or practice would make me a superstar. Why then was I so drawn to music?

It was more than a draw actually. In the darkest moments of my life I clung to music with the same veracity as an addict does his bottle–music was an escape. For me, the text paved the road for something better. Words strung together in a purposeful manner designed to evoke emotion that can felt.

Lyrics. I might not have much in the way of musical ability but I could write. And music was so like poetry and that I knew if I sat down with a composer we could lay down a pretty cool song. Take the beat of The Scripts “The End Where I Begin” for example…

Sometimes tears say all there is to say
Sometime your first scars wont ever fade… away

Tried to break my heart, well it’s broke
Tried to hang me high, well I’m choked
Wanted rain on me, well I’m soaked
Soaked to the skin

…Sometimes we don’t learn from our mistakes
Sometimes we’ve no choice but to walk
Away, away

…It’s the end
End where I begin
It’s the end
End where I begin

Sometimes we don’t learn
From our mistakes
Sometimes we’ve no
Choice but to walk
Away, away

Here’s what I came up with along the same melody:

Rainbows falling beneath the sky
Promises made to never lie

Tried to break me down, well I’m down
Wanted me gone, well I’m done
Stole the sun, took the light
The light that I lived in

Sometimes change is not the way to go
Sometimes what’s broke, cannot be fixed…
Cannot be fixed

It’s the end
End where I begin
It’s the end
End where I begin

Sometimes change is not the way to go
Sometimes what’s broke, cannot be fixed…
Cannot be fixed

It’s not the full song, just a partial that I spun for this article. The idea wasn’t to create something brilliant or somehow seek to find acclaim among the song writing community. All I wanted to do was convey emotion in a way that words alone cannot. An experiment that opened the door to a creative outlet I might never have explored had I not been inspired by someone else’s love of the craft.

The Manuscript


Hey Jamie gets a facelift!!! But in addition to that the first completed draft of the manuscript I’ve been slaving away at for the past 15 months has arrived. Three-hundred and seventy seven pages of words that I hope readers will enjoy…

What a day!

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Be Someone in One Minute


Today was the second time that I came across this photo:

Be Someone Graffitti on the 59 freeway in Houston

Yes–I took the photo while driving which I am in no way condoning, but in my defense we were stuck in traffic. In any case I was waiting for a while to write an article about how we should all strive to “Be Someone.” Not someone famous or rich or even powerful, just someone who brings meaning into other people’s lives.

Today I came across a website:

http://oneminutewonder.tv/

I thought was really cool. They’re one minute videos about wondrous people who have made unique lives for themselves doing what they love. Right now there are 27 videos that I think can inspire others to follow their dreams so I wanted to post it up here. Enjoy!

From Ronan to Emma


 

It’s not often that I find myself listening to a song on repeat, but I was surfing the iTunes main page when I came across the “Stand Up 2 Cancer” telethon hosted by a variety of celebrities. I had it on in the background when this melancholy melody began—I was hooked. It was Taylor Swift singing “Ronan” with nothing but a simple microphone and minimalist band. There was nothing fancy about the performance…just honest lyrics and heart.

Aside from the songs I’d heard on the radio I didn’t know that much about Taylor Swift so when I saw her cry while singing this song, I thought Ronan had to be her brother or cousin or something. A couple clicks on Google though and I was baffled to find that she had never even met him. The girl created one of the most personal and heart wrenching songs based on a blog that Ronan’s mother created when he became ill with cancer nine months before his death.

Her lyrics…they were strong and every time I heard them a new image came to mind. “I love you to the moon and back,”—a young mom leaning over her son’s crib, her index finger pressed into his tiny palm as he struggled to hold his grip. “What if I’m standing in your closet, trying to talk to you? What if I kept the hand-me-downs you’d never grow into?” Those words…they were personal as much as they were universal and impactful because they were true.

I don’t know Taylor Swift, Ronan or his Mom but I do have a similar moment of impact in my life. A juncture that marked the point where two unlikely paths crossed and culminated in an experience that would follow me forever.

When I was in high school I volunteered at CHOC hospital in Orange Country as part of volunteerism campaign to pad my college applications. If I’m being completely truthful, I did it because a guy I liked was supposedly also volunteering there. But I showed up for my first shift in the “playroom” and I knew I’d be coming back for a long time.

If you’ve never witnessed a child endure the life and death gauntlet that is cancer, then consider yourself lucky because it was one of the hardest processes to watch. How their parents endured it was beyond me.

Sometime during the winter—where darkness always seemed to come too soon—I met a little girl named Emma. She was 7 and trapped in an ICU room by herself most of the day. After putting on booties, gloves and a mask—so much protection that I barely looked human anymore—I entered her room. Completely bald and so small even in a child sized bed; she looked exhausted.

“Hi,” she said, “Did you bring me crayons?”

“I did.” I said. “And depending on how this goes maybe I’ll try and sneak you some paints next week.” Her room was bare, save for the blanket she had wrapped up against her.

“That would be awesome,” she laughed as she and stretched her arms out for the sterilized bag in my hands. Emma was told that crayons and Cinderella pages in desperate need of color were headed her way. The princess fairytale was an interest we had in common and as we colored we talked about what a “happily ever after” wedding gown might look like. She had a very vivid imagination, talking about details I hadn’t ever even considered like the lace trimming at the bottom of her gown and the sparkly clips that would adorn her hair.

“Come on baby with me, we’re gonna fly away from here. Out of this curtained room and hospital gray…we’re gonna fly away from here.” I couldn’t have said it better. Before meeting Emma I had a very idealistic picture of these kids fighting cancer being surrounded by family and loved ones. I never considered how lonely it was for them most of the time. And at first I was irritated with her parents for abandoning her, but at 9:30pm when her mom walked through the door after a second shift at work the situation became tragically clear.

So here was this 7 year-old girl, fighting an uphill battle against an internal monster—alone—and without a single person to blame.

And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through?” Death is not supposed to take those who are strong, those who fight, and those who deserve to live. Yet, it did. When I came back for my shift the next week, Emma was gone. She passed away during surgery 48 hours prior.

I met Emma over 10 years ago, and the impact she had on me was enormous. At the age of 16 I understood the fragility of life and I vowed to appreciate mine everyday. But as with most things time pushed her into the background.

Just looking at the past few weeks in particular, they have been especially challenging with the stress and weight of work pushing me to the brink of quitting. And then I heard Taylor’s song and it conjured up memories of Emma. Hadn’t I promised to live my life fully, and in the pursuit of happiness?

Whatever pressures I had been facing recently all of a sudden didn’t seem that difficult to manage. In the face of death everything seems doable, because hard as life may be…at least I get to live it.

I didn’t think was it possible for one song to sum up someone’s life, and yet there it was, four minutes of lyrics coupled with a simple melody that painted a colorful and vivid picture of life—Ronan’s, Emma’s and countless other youthful faces.

What if the miracle was even getting’ one moment with you…” I truly believe that some people were put on this earth to walk though and change the lives of others. Emma and Ronan were two of these people.

 

From Big City to Small Town


Main Street in Sutton, Nebraska

In the past few weeks I’ve found myself in a constant state of disquiet. I worried about: the recent distance I’d put between my family and myself, where I was going to be in six months, the decisions I’d made in the past, the ones I knew I would make in the near future…I had buckets full of paint and no idea what picture I wanted to create.

Then on a flight from Bakersfield to my new hometown of Houston, I sat next to a woman who had only one direction she was going in life—building a family. She was from Nebraska; grew up in a town whose population was 1,300–roughly the size of my high school student body and she had no intention of leaving.

We couldn’t have been more different. I was a city girl, living in a world of concrete walls and high rises and she lived on 52 acres of lush green farmland. I passed by a thousand strangers everyday whereas I was probably the only stranger she’d met in weeks. This was going to be a very quiet plane ride home.

It had been a particularly rough weekend for me and as friendly as she seemed I wasn’t interested in making friends. The 3.5-hour plane ride was quiet time for me to do what I did best: worry. Right away my mind went into superdrive, thinking about back-up plans and big picture changes that needed to be made.

I was contemplating my next move–Ireland? Scarborough? Bangkok? Singapore? San Francisco? Seattle?–when I heard her ask me, “Do you speak English?” I raised an eyebrow; an attitude notoriously known as being an “L.A. thing,” (Los Angeleno’s apparently don’t talk to strangers and those who attempt to talk to us are given the death stare) only this time I felt it was justified.

“Yes. I was born in Denver actually,” I replied, with a condescending tone.

“Oh. I just wasn’t sure cause…” I could tell she was embarrassed, which consequently made me feel like an asshole. She didn’t look like a malicious person and even though I wanted to be offended, I could tell that her question was sincere.

I backtracked, softened my tone and told her that it happened all the time. In truth, I think it had been probably 20 years since someone had asked me whether or not I spoke English (and even then it was the daughter of a blatantly racist household). But I was in big picture mode which meant I had to think about the adverse effects of being mean to someone obviously very sheltered.

We took off and I reclined in my seat, ready to take a nap and decompress, when she handed me a copy of “Star Magazine” with a photo of that girl from Twilight and some guy who was apparently not her boyfriend. As you can probably tell, I never read gossip rags–not even while standing in line at the grocery store–but I didn’t want to be rude so I politely thumbed through it.

“So do you travel often?” she asked.

“More so than most I guess,” I said.

“For work?” she asked.

I didn’t really know how to answer that question. I was a writer who valued travel as a means of expanding my scope of knowledge so in a way—yes—I traveled for work. Truthfully though, travel was a socially acceptable means of running from life. In a fight or flight situation my instinct was always the go with the latter.

It was easy when I lived in Los Angeles, where I could find a cheap cross-country flight for less than $300. But when I made my move to Houston it was with the intention of staying put. I had hit a point in my life where running—though fun—had become unhealthy. So, even though I was itching to hop on a plane at every turn, I made a commitment not to run.

Of course I wasn’t about to unleash my life’s story on this poor stranger who had the sore luck of sitting next to me, so I turned the conversation onto her. Gina told me about her favorite cattle, Gertie, a calf that had been abandoned until Gina found her. She told me about the town; it’s community-like feel and how she’d grown up knowing everyone’s business.

We laughed together as she told me about the Jerry Springeresque drama that had been unfolding in the town recently. And before I knew it I found myself enraptured in her stories. With our age, cultural, societal, and personality differences we were the most unlikely of friends. Yet, there we were.

As the plane began taxing toward the tarmac, I thanked her for my reading material and wished her the best of luck, but in true small town fashion she did me one better. Gina handed me a piece of paper with name, phone number and address on it. “If you ever find yourself in Sutton, Nebraska make sure you look me up. I promise to show you a great small town time.”

When I sat down next to this 52 year-old farmer I expected her to marvel at the adventurous life I’d led; I expected her to be jealous. We city dwellers always assume that small town folk want to be us. How delusional we were…

My 3-hour plane ride with Gina made me wish I had grown up in a small town where my grocer, doctor, and teachers occasionally all sat down for dinner together as equals. And then it hit me, I was running around the globe searching for the very thing Gina has had all her life: community. There was no amount of travel or education that could give me that and in that moment…I was jealous of Gina.

For a week after meeting her I considered making a move to Sutton, Nebraska. If I pack up now and move I could nudge my way into thanksgiving dinner at the Sutton community center potluck, I thought to myself. But then there she was again my instinct to fly away…and I knew right then that it was time to go home.

From Small Beginnings…


Diamonds in the making...

“A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well.”- Anonymous

I was home visiting my family two weeks ago and at 5:00 a.m., after a restless night’s sleep. I found myself thinking, “My life is hard.” It wasn’t a complaint, but a simple truth that I felt guilty for thinking. My family depends on me for a lot: business managements, legal questions, document drafting, research, tech problems, physical labor…the list is endless and variety vast.

To be clear, I don’t have a degree in any of these subjects. What I do have is a strong grasp on the English language, which translates to my immigrant parents as having a copious amount of knowledge. I’m not complaining about it, but combined with the stress of my own fledgling career, I find going home to be overwhelming.

In fact, I don’t think I knew what it felt like to relax at home until I spent a weekend with a boyfriend and his family one summer in New Jersey. Sprawled out on the couches and floor, we were passing around popcorn in bowls as an uncle inserted the movie Layer Cake into the DVD player. Then, right before the movie started, my boyfriend’s mom turned to me and said, “I’m sorry if this boring to you, but it’s sort of a family tradition.”

That was it. As I sat on the sofa in a room filled with quasi-strangers, I thought to myself, “So this is what it’s like to be on vacation.” The time spent relaxing together on a living room floor was where most people absorbed their entertainment. It was a luxury that until college I wasn’t afforded.

I wasn’t an outcast. Actually I made friends pretty easily because of my adaptable personality. People attributed it to me being “easy-going” but honestly I was just being agreeable because I had no idea what they were talking about.

Case in point, my college friends used to play this game called, “The Beatles vs. Bob Marley” where they would sing the lyrics to a song and I had to guess who it belonged to. It was a 50/50 crapshoot. I protested that the music was before my time, but their sideways glances told me that was not a valid excuse. I had somehow missed out on two decades of popular culture.

Often times, while in sat at round table conversations about things I had no clue about, I wondered if I was devoid of personality. Universities whet free thinkers and everyone but me seemed to have a strong standpoint on…well just about everything. The irony was that the very thing I was least exposed to was the major that drew my interest most—movies.

Film school was a crash course on mainstream art, music, and literature. It was a major challenge though, as one can imagine it would be for the girl who was watching “Casablanca” for the first time in a college classroom. Flooded with strong personalities, I started to lose sight of who I was and began feeling devoid of character. I was lost; I didn’t know the first thing about movie making. I hadn’t even heard of, let alone read any of the screenwriting books my classmates had in their repertoire.

I was lucky though, because I had one professor who saw through the mechanical errors and thought I had a unique perspective on life. He pushed me to continue and is the reason I’m still writing. I think he saw in me what I only realized a few days ago.

It was so subtle.  I was sitting in a pick-up truck with my dad and grandpa, going to a hardware store for supplies, when the topic of oil and gas came up. In between such major cities as Los Angeles and San Jose, Bakersfield is often dismissed as being a drive though city—as in you drive-thru it on your way to some place better. But what Bakersfield does have, deep beneath surface, is an abundance of oil.

Knowing that oil and gas meant huge money and international conflict, my grandpa asked my dad what would happen if a nuclear bomb were to drop on the city. My dad laughed and said nonchalantly in Vietnamese, “Nếu ai thả một quả bom vào thành phố này, thành phố sẽ cháy đẹp.” Loosely translated as: If someone were to drop a bomb on this city, the city would burn pretty.

That was the first time I heard—I mean really heard—the Vietnamese influence in my writing. It was the way in which dark subjects were addressed. To talk about the atomic bomb as being so utterly destructive that it could only be described as beautiful was parallel to my own prose.

Had anyone asked me a week ago what one of the major influences in my writing was, I would have said, Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful. His ability to capture levity and joy within horrific surroundings inspired me. I loved the movie because I could relate to it, but the real stimuli in my life came from the obstacles I had to overcome in my childhood.

I couldn’t appreciate the hardships in my life while I was going through it. But in hindsight, those struggles are colorful balls of yarn weaved into my writing style. I didn’t see it because I had always identified the Vietnamese side of me as being the root of all my problems instead of recognizing the profound impact it had on my work.

“If someone were to drop a bomb on this city, the city would burn pretty.” –the words, they were like a light bulb, illuminating a world I had mistakenly kept in the dark. The very thing that I thought held me back in life, my family, was actually the substance that made my work relatable—struggle is universal. How had I not seen that before?

Looking back at what I had long perceived to be a deficient childhood, I’m grateful for the difficulties that I’ve faced. If we look at the every day battles we fight as small and large pieces of charcoal, than the greater the challenge the larger the diamond. And the problems we see dancing in the fire of our lives are just pieces of coal waiting for an opportunity to shine.

 

Life’s Daily Snippets


My favorite flower

I have a lot of friends because I love to meet new people. It’s the greatest part about living in any major city; there are always new people to stumble across. For the most part I love having lots of friends, but because I have so many it’s hard to keep up with all of them and I find my schedule booked weeks in advance for coffee, drinks, dinner, shows etc.

An active flaw in my personality is a lack of patience. I don’t like to be late usually because I have things planned back to back, but also because I have a pretty antsy personality and I don’t like waiting for other people. My friend Ryan tells me all the time that I need to just chill the fuck out. So the other day I was sitting at a bar alone, waiting for my friend Amy to arrive, and I could feel the itch–I needed to optimize my time.

Instantly I whipped out my phone and started checking my e-mails, text messages, twitter, facebook etc. Who have I not responded to yet that I need to reply to? After going through the usual motions and replying to some recent e-mails I put my phone down and started to look around.

The place was nice, cozy even, with vibrant chatter happening all around me. Because of the social atmosphere I felt strange to be sitting alone and not doing anything. But I had nothing to do and flipping through my phone for no good reason seemed stupid–I decided to just be uncomfortable. Then a funny thing happened…I started reveling in the time alone. It was just snippets of time, 5 minutes here or 15 minutes there, but I found it really refreshing.

I hadn’t ever meditated before, but I imagined that the quiet was what drew people in and having acquiesced some semblance of it, I really enjoyed it. This surprised me because up until that moment I had always loved loud places. So what sparked the change?

I think I used to equate silence with being alone and at the time I didn’t have enough confidence to really traverse the world by myself. My jam packed schedule was purposefully designed that way because I hadn’t mastered the art of doing nothing. Well, to be quite frank, I thought it was a load of crap.

A year ago, when I moved to Houston, I had every intent to change my ways. I wasn’t going to make a lot of friends because I wanted to focus on my book–and I did. In 3 short months I had written over 300 pages and had a complete first draft of my novel. As a token of my accomplishment I gave myself the day off.

I had no plans, no itinerary, and no intention to see anyone. Want to know what I did? I drove to a book store, bought a book, found a nice patch of grass at Hermann Park and spent the entire day either reading or starring up at the sky lost in my own thoughts.

It felt great. I felt great. Maybe it’s something that just comes with age, but I really appreciated and enjoyed just hanging out with myself. I think often times we confuse being alone as being lonely. But in reality, I think those who are content with being alone who are the most happy. Happiness that comes from within has a very strong foundation, which means it’s stable and consistant.

“Happiness is a state of mind.” — I’ve heard that phrase many times, but no one really talks about how to get to that state of mind. More importantly, I think people go about finding it in all the wrong ways by filling their days with activities that only stay the problem and not necessarily fix it.

The happiest people I know are the ones who meditate on a daily basis. They are grounded and content and everything that happens in life is simply taken in stride. It’s not that their lives aren’t complicated or that really shitty things don’t happen to them. But they are better equipped to handle those things because they’ve spent enough time on themselves that problems become less emotional.

So…take a day off and do nothing but spend it with yourself. Go to a spa (or use the gym’s sauna and Jacuzzi), read a book outside, take a stroll through Central Park…whatever. Give yourself some time with you because I think you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy your own company.

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