A couple of weeks ago I enrolled in a travel writing course through MatadorU.com, the educational arm of the Matador Network to improve my writing skills. It’s a 12-week course called Fundamentals of Travel Writing and entails a curriculum of chapter lessons and subsequent assignments that are reviewed and critiqued by the MatadorU faculty. I hemmed and hawed over pulling the trigger on enrolling because of the $475 price tag but after endless “MatadorU review” Google searches turned up positive results and recommendations, I decided to go for it. Now I am having a hard time putting my Mac down and can’t wait for the faculty feedback from each assignment I submit. I look forward to each new chapter like a drooling dog waiting for the steak to drop on the floor.
I started my blog because I had been sharing ideas and experiences with clients and friends for years and thought this would be another platform on which to share. What I discovered is that I love the process of crafting a story. The MatadorU experience is teaching me how to succinctly imbue the emotions and detail of the story in the reader. I am learning to distinguish between the elements that are interesting to the reader and the ones that are important only to me, then I reluctantly and painfully cut them.
I am going to post my assignments here as I complete them. I hope you’ll follow along and let me know what you think.
Homage to My Mother and My Motherland
I was born in war-time Saigon, Vietnam and I had my first passport by the time I was two months old. My Irish-American father served in the Navy and met my mother at the beer garden near my father’s base that my great-grandparents owned. My mother was the only English speaker in the house and acted as a translator between the proprietors and the patrons. My father completed his tour of duty, returned to the United States for a brief period and went back to Vietnam as a civilian to marry my mother – and father me.
Our family came to the U.S. in 1973 to live temporarily with my paternal grandparents in Henrietta, New York. Shortly after my sister was born at the end of that year, my parents bought their first home thirty minutes away from Henrietta in the cow manure-scented village of Caledonia for $11,000. It was a modest three bedroom structure with crumbling plaster and lath walls and a scary dirt-floor basement, but it was directly situated across the street from a playground with monkey bars, swings, a wading pool and the tallest slide I had ever played on.
My sister and I were cute bi-racial girls in a place and a time when being bi-racial was not such a cool way to be. In addition, we were born to a Vietnamese expat living in the U.S. right after the U.S. had sorely lost a years-long war that was supposed to be only a few months long according to President Johnson. I wasn’t friendless, but growing up in a predominantly white community with a lion’s share of racism proved difficult. Kids would pull the corners of their eyes taut when walking past me in the school hallways and make karate-chop noises when it was my turn to kick during a game of kickball. My father once sent me to the corner store to buy milk and when I got there, a group of kids on their bikes were loitering out front. In that moment I had to decide which would be worse; penetrating the group of kids to walk through the entrance, knowing what I would be subject to, or running home crying, fearing how angry my father would be that I didn’t fulfill my chore. I chose the latter. I never shared the pain I experienced growing up with anyone; not my parents, not my sister, and not my friends. I didn’t want anyone to feel bad about it, especially not my mother.
I am a divorced mother of two teenage children who love travel just as much as I do. I enjoy fact-based media and I keep a healthy stack of travel magazines on my nightstand. I love jazz and classical music. My boyfriend and I volunteer every June at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.
My parents, children and I traveled to Vietnam in early 2014 where we saw a beautiful modern country with warm people who were as curious about us as we were about them. I learned how and why my mother is the woman that she is. I model myself after her herculean work ethic, her intense pragmatism, her resiliency, and her unfailing resolve. My mother is my mentor. As she says, “You lucky you haf good mudda”.
I love to craft with words and I enjoy sharing my experiences and offering suggestions and advice to others. I am gratified when someone thanks me for directing them to a new restaurant or a cruise. I want to challenge people’s norms and invoke heightened awareness.