I have been working on this piece, in various forms, for two years. The idea began shortly after my father-in-law was in the intensive care unit after his heart attack and we were waiting in the hospital, greeting friends and relatives, seeing if he was going to live. In the way that intense, traumatic experiences bring people together, I had never been closer to my in-laws than on those days. Brad, Quynh's boyfriend at the time, suggested I write a movie about it, and that very night I bought a pencil and spiral notebook to record all my thoughts as they were still fresh. What began as a script evolved into a short story, into a series of essays, into a multi-genre into a piece of mixed media visual artwork.
I tried hard to avoid any insinuation that I was exoticizing my family or our experiences. No matter how much I may be an insider of my own family, I felt the need to work extra hard to erase any possibility of being interpreted as or accused of being the "white guy" outsider who is enamored with his interesting multi-cultural family.
I also didn't want my family members to feel "used," like I was simply mining them for material whenever we got together. So I decided not to conduct any formal interviews. Instead, I let the stories come as they naturally did, coaxing them out a little when necessary, and turned out to have plenty of material to choose from. This carried over into the structure of the text, as it accurately represents how I received the stories in the first place: an oral account of history, disjointed and juxtaposed in time and theme.
Knowing that my family would actually read this at some point, I decided to keep from making too many overt value judgments or interpretations and instead let the episodes speak for themselves – playing with order, style and point of view to find a thematic focus.
After a couple false starts, I decided to focus on the source of most of my material – my mother-in-law – and to loosely connect the stories with some aspect of food or eating, which is as elemental to her as lava to a volcano. To include the narrative of how Bich and I met up in the first place and how I got drawn into her family, I decided to parallel that story with the story of Mom meeting Dad in Vietnam, converging on our wedding - which is, of course, when our families did converge.
One difficulty I always have when writing is to release myself from the constraints of formal structure and typical narrative patterns and points of view. Somehow I'm afraid to experiment. To encourage myself, I started mimicking the style of Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, with its short narrative episodes that are told from different points of view. Then I experimented by writing episodes in different genres and got feedback from my peers. From their encouragement, I felt more confident in a looser style. I still wonder if I am too loose in a few places.
In all, I learned a lot about myself and my family in this journey and have grown as a writer. I am grateful for the guidance and encouragement I received from Dr. Ahmad, and I see this as a starting point for an even longer piece for eventual publication.