Two months before getting on a plane to go to Warrenton, Virginia for the Wordsmith Workshop retreat, I stared at my computer contemplating whether or not to cancel the whole damn thing. I mean, what was I doing? I’m not a real author. In rare moments when I’m off my guard, I sometimes unexpectedly think to myself, “You’re a good writer, Pa.” It’s often a whisper followed by an eye roll and an amused chuckle--like I’m telling myself a joke. In that moment in front of my computer, all I could think was: who am I to put myself in the same group of people who go on five-day writing retreats? Who am I to spend that much money on myself? On a hobby?
Sometimes, I wonder if we were better listeners before we came to the United States. When we first arrived in 1990, my untainted ears still longed for the steadiness of a storyteller’s tone. In the evenings when mothers called their kids home for dinner and crickets began their soothing songs, my siblings and I gathered around Dad to hear sweeping tales of monsters and heroes and magic in a tradition that had been practiced long before a book, a TV or a tablet became the norm.
Mom has laid a three-foot spread of newspaper over the yellow linoleum floor. In an old, fifty-pound rice bag, several chickens squirm. I’m standing to the side waiting as the kettle sings its readiness on the stove. Mom picks up the kettle and pours steaming water into a white bucket next to the spread of newspaper. With an expert hand, she opens the rice bag and pulls out a chicken.
I take a deep breath as I walk into the dark theater with several Hmong girlfriends from work. It’s 11:00 AM on a Friday, and the only people in the theater are us, a few rows of senior citizens, and a couple here and there. All week I’ve been reading the reviews for Crazy Rich Asians, watching the cast do interviews, witnessing this momentous event every step of the way. It’s been on my calendar for a whole year. As my girlfriends and I sit down to wait for the lights to dim and for the trailers to start playing, I only had one thought in my head. Gosh, please don’t suck.