I’ve been thinking lately about the old adage write what you know, mostly because I either live with or know people with fascinating life stories who are also writers. (I’m looking at you, Russ, and you, Wicked Cool Riley. Plz to be writing your memoirs immediately and sending me the manuscripts. Kthx.) I, on the other hand, have had an almost disgustingly “nice” life: a more-than-comfortable bourgeois upbringing complete with prep school, art conservatory, country clubs, tennis lessons, dance lessons, horseback riding, fencing, exotic travel, etc. But more than that, I have been extraordinarily blessed by family.
I once facetiously told my parents that “I will never be a great writer because I didn’t have a terrible childhood.”
“Good,” they replied, “go out and get a real job.”
It’s play and not-play, the scripted roles we enact of dutiful daughter and upper-middle-class parent, duty and obligation, expectation and rebellion. But where I consider myself lucky is the fact that I know I can count on my family—for financial support, yes, but more importantly, for emotional support. My mother and father get me, which is hard to say about anyone, let alone the parental units. Of course, my relationship with my parents—my mother in particular—has evolved and changed greatly over the years. Perhaps it’s this past Mother’s Day that made me appreciate them, but I’ve been conscious for a long time now of how fortunate I am. Alas, a happy childhood makes for less riveting (non)fiction; people want to read about conflict and about overcoming said conflict.
So I make stuff up. But that isn’t to say that I’m writing what I don’t know. I know plenty, even if my life is puppydogs and rainbows and butterflies. What do I know?
- I know Frances Hodgson Burnett and THE SECRET GARDEN and A LITTLE PRINCESS and E.M. Forster’s A PASSAGE TO INDIA; I understand imperial Britain’s fascination with its Jewel of the Crown
- I know the legacy that Empire left on England more than 100 later and I know London; I lived there in 2005 and witnessed these things first hand.
- I know what it’s like growing up as a biracial child and what it feels like to be ambivalent to the “ethnic” side of yourself.
- I have a…complicated relationship with the Christian religion, to say the least. (And not in the way most people assume.)
- I know what it’s like to grow up with distant parents—in my case, my parents both worked full-time to support me and therefore I was mostly left alone to my own devices.
- I know all about charismatic but slightly creepy and perverted teachers. I also love them to bits.
- I know about mothers who seem cold and unfeeling on the outside.
- I know about Indian food. Boy, do I know about Indian food. I could probably exist on vindaloo for the rest of my life. Also, Bear is half-Indian.
- I know what it’s like to smuggle home “improper reading for girls of good breeding.”
- I know about what it’s like to be a descendant of traitors. Oh yes; my great-grandparents were North Koreans who supported Japanese annexation. Needless to say, our family name is mud now.
The only memoir-worthy bits of my life probably involve going to church somehow. I consider myself a transcendentalist, not an atheist, but the point is while I don’t believe in a Judeo-Christian God, I am not one to discount faith. But I used to win Bible verse-memorization contests as a child (I was a Red Team member of my local AWANA chapter) and I wasn’t allowed to go trick-or-treating until I was 10 years old because Halloween was the Devil’s holiday. (They apparently still believe in the Devil in Korean Presbyterianism.) We weren’t allowed to dress up, but we were allowed to come as Biblical characters of our choosing. We played games at booths and “won” candy corn, which we were told represented the Tears of Christ. Every summer I went to Bible camp where the highlight of the three day overnighter was having the pastor make us cry by drawing accounts of the Crucifixion on transparencies and projecting them against a 20 foot screen. Oh, and reenactments of the stations of the cross. Our favourite was when Jesus met the women of Jerusalem because it somehow involved us getting wet by crossing a stream.
See now why I have such issues with religion?