So I'm flying my 80 year old Mom, Poy Jen, to Ann Arbor, Michigan this coming Wednesday, January 23. It looks like it's going to be as cold as the play-offs tomorrow in Landry Field between the Packers and Giants.
Because of her age, the sponsors graciously sprung for the larger seats of the front cabin (folks - there is no such thing as "First Class" on domestic travel and if you think so, fly First Class on JAL, Singapore, Lutfthansa, etc. overseas - that's First Class).
Already, The Eighth Promise is a bestseller in this major University town and they keep restocking the library shelves. The agenda is over several days and generously spaced: arrive Wednesday to a casual dinner, meeting with public school teachers on Thursday, the big kick-off event on Friday night at the University with reception and book signing; and a casual day with members of the local Chinese Studies academic and Chinese American community on Saturday. We fly home on Sunday.
Their theme is "China and America: Bridging Two Worlds" and I'm pleased that the selection committee saw underneath the more obvious themes to those universal ones of connectivity between two disparate cultures.
With my usual perfectionist tendencies, I started to write a serious address on that theme, but my liaison and very gracious host, Tim Grimes, assured me that the audience is more interested in my journey of writing The Eighth Promise, what it's been like since publication, and then basically a wide-open Q&A session. Many will have already read the book and others will speak to the theme.
In other words, William - relax and enjoy the acclaim. You don't have to prove yourself or the book anymore. They selected it, remember!
This will take some getting use to, but I'm ready. The hardest challenge of writing is that so much of it is in solitude without feedback that I recall sharp moments of wondering whether I was really doing anything worthy or just fantasizing. Compound those insecurities with the usual rejections by prospected agents, and later, after you've gotten an agent -- a really good one, Marly Rusoff, the many rejections by a shrinking publishing industry that was actively hacking off mid-list writers and keeping only bestselling authors, and its a interesting experience to "feel the acceptance."
So I shall and just be myself. I'm as ready as ready can get anyway, for in 2007, the year of promotion, I've probably had just about every question thrown at me and gave a number of lectures from themes in the book: Leadership, Immigration, Criminal Justice, Civil Rights, and more.
I remember Ann Arbor fondly. In the mid-ninties, i came out to Detroit for a contract marketing gig during it summer. The best thing about Detroit was its incredible music scene -- non-stop outdoors and in-doors all summer long. The worst part of Detroit was its Black-White divide, as in "East is East, and West and West, and never the Twain shall meet." Ann Arbor was the only place where I could get a multicultural hit -- the kind you get used to San Francisco and I glad drove the hour there on weekends.
January 24, 2008 -- taped an inteview with "fyi," an Ann Arbor city-wide broadcast station. Our host, Dana Denhall" was new, fashionable, and although low-key, exuded interested in the book. Our local contact, Timothy Grimes, Community Relations and Marketing Manager for the District Library, discussed the selection of the book as a bridge for China and America. He mentioned the early chapters of my mother's upbringing and immigration here and my assimilation. I focused on universal themes in the book, including grappling with human happiness (a la my Mother's polyamorous relationship with my father and Bob), the transition from country to urban, the costs of modernization at the expense of old ways and wisdoms, and going through and surviving difficult times.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the host asked a lot of questions about the polyamory. What's going on in her life, I wonder. She is part European and part Caldean (Iraq) and lives in Deerborn, home to the largest Middle Eastern American community outside of the Middle East.
The most touching moment was when Tim Ngai, the camera man and now an American who had been raised in Japan, came over and introduced himself to my mother. I had described the first Japanese Zero attack on my mother's village and Tim just straight up said "I apologize for the horrible things that Japan did to China."
My mom smiled and said graciously, "Oh, that was a long time ago," in American. They shook hands.
Later, after lunch of a grilled BLT with minestrone soup and think fries, Mom asked me to help her pronounce "Ann Arbor." The best phonetic approximation for her is -- "Ann (her niece's name) -- the letter "R" -- and finally the word -- "Boy."
Ann-R-Boy -- is her version of Ann Arbor.
(C) 2008. William Poy Lee
Causes William Lee Supports
Kim Baptiste's Culture Clash Hip-Hop Clubs for Youth, SF Bay Area East Bay Meditation Center, availing Buddhist wisdom to inner cities Belladonna Sanctuary...