Danville, Kentucky, 1986. Photo taken by Ray, a pal at GSP.
Some stuff popped up yesterday that reminded me of you. When I realized I was stewing about it for more than a couple of minutes, it seemed like a good idea to scribble a note to you, to get it out of my system and shoo you back into the archives.
It hoovered up more time than I'd planned to spend on it, but that's pretty much the story of my life.
Here's what I'm looking at, kid: Being Asian American is a pain in the ass, but because people are telling you every single day things that you already know to your very bones not to be true -- from "there's no way you were born in this country" to "we have to work harder at our looks because we're not as pretty as Americans" -- you will develop a pretty good bullshit filter. This will spare you from the oceans of angst you'll witness other women having to swim through because of the shiploads of misinformation and screwed-up expectations incessantly dumped on them. That said, the filter won't always kick in on time -- you'll give some people the benefit of the doubt when you shouldn't, and sometimes it will stay in high gear when the stakes are too low for it to be engaged, making you a pain in the ass to your beloveds. You're far more clueless than you realize, but God does in fact look after fools and madwomen. You will still encounter acne and mean girls (aka cool-kid wannabes) in your forties. But your toolkit by then will include mineral makeup and reminders of sovereignty. Put down the poison and go to track practice instead. (...You'd rather mope than practice? Gahhhhh.) That dazzlingly smart and charismatically blunt boy you have a stupid fierce extended crush on -- twenty-six years later, you'll still be writing to each other about the things you are writing. You'll be ever so glad that nothing was possible romantically, since that would have gotten in the way of this. You'll dedicate your first book to his roommate, who will become one of the top forensics coaches in the country. Steve will introduce you to Dandelion Wine and introduce your poems to his students.
Also, he and his partners in crime (and rhyme) will pull you onto the stage during a performance of Forever Plaid. You will be glad you wore the cute dress. (You need to pick up that scarf from the drycleaner.) You'll drift away from some of your friends -- some of the closest bonds will unravel sooner than you can imagine-- but you'll find and be found by others. You'll meet up with them in France, Israel, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Japan, as well around the United States. You will stay in sketchy hotels in Athens and Lanarca with your big sister, and the motel room in Memphis you share with her four months later will seem palatial in comparison. You'll wear red frocks to weddings and other fancy soirees (after resisting the color for years, because it takes you that long to achieve a detente with the Asian thing). You'll dye your hair purple when you're twenty-nine and paint it green when you're forty. You'll discover the joys of painting your toenails cobalt blue. Some people will see you as colorful. You'll be told that you're kind, funny, and various shades of impressive. You'll also overhear people dismissing you as weird, boring, and overbearing. You'll still be teaching yourself how to take it all in stride. I'm telling you: it does get easier, and you're going to need to remember this, because your fifty-year-old self is a badass who will be deeply and fundamentally annoyed with the time you continue squandering on hearsay, mightsays, and self-pity instead of sit-ups and sun salutations. It turns out that you do like to cook. You just don't enjoy the (admittedly inordinate) fear of messing up other people's things. When you finally fully recognize that you are attracted to women as well as men -- you're twenty-five or twenty-six when you get to it -- it won't be because you've fallen in love with one, but because you've been writing stories and poems about lesbians; it occurs to you that somebody will question your motives, and that will propel you into assessing them before that somebody beats you to it. It won't be the only time your compulsion to write surprises you with answers you hadn't been truffling for. There will be a lot of surprises, in fact. They'll keep showing up on your doorsteps: A beautiful young man will bring you a teapot. A puppy with a cast-iron stomach will stalk you for broccoli scraps. And -- look! -- just this week, tulips you didn't plant showed up in your front yard.
Things will be far, far more chaotic
than you anticipated, but you'll be astonished by it all, and grateful beyond words. So hang in there -- treat yourself to a better pencil sharpener, while you're at it -- and do your best with the words you do have.