Monthly Archives: May 2011

NYC, 1970

Dad, gas station, NYC
Above left: my father in front of his gas station in 1970. Above right: my father in front of his former gas station (now a BP) in 2011.

My mom and dad came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago. My dad hadn’t been to NYC since he left town in 1978. He has many aged maps in his head of places that really no longer exist in the world. The Korea he knows, no longer exists. And the New York City he knows, no longer exists. SoHo does not exist in his mind. The Bowery is off limits. Queens is picturesque. The subways are covered in graffiti.

We went around and visited my parents’ various haunts. Their grocery store in Yorkville, which they owned for a short time in the early 1970s no longer exists. The hospital at which my mom worked has grown in size over the decades such that it took my mom a few minutes to recognize the building.

My parents’ faces wore an expression of shock. On the subway, they insisted on standing so that they could see out the windows and observe the city. Other passengers offered up their seats. We refused. They insisted. I told them why. They were delighted. Had the city changed? A lot my father said. A lot. He stuck his tongue out.

But other places still exist as is–the subway system it self, the freeways, the apartment building in which they lived with me as a newborn, the pizzeria we frequented, and even the gas station my dad used to own and at which he worked, daily.

Meanwhile, the city was changing under my feet, too–my history of the city through my parents’ eyes, and in the literal ticking of time.

The shore of an ocean or river will change a craggy rock over time. And time will do that to a city.

For more on my parents’ trip, you can read my write up on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Open City blog.


Filed under Life, New York City

A Letter: Jennifer, on the Literary Auction and her Progress

Nice sidewalk graffiti message

Back in September 2010, we held a literary auction to help our friend Jennifer Derilo beat Hodgkins Lymphoma (and pay some of her bills as an uninsured cancer patient). Thanks to your support, we raised $5,870.18.

I’ve been remiss in not providing you with an update on Jennifer’s health. Many of you have wondered how she is doing, and understandably, been hesitant to ask. I talked to Jennifer about the conundrum, and she decided that she wanted to provide you with an update herself, in her own words, as well as her thoughts on the literary auction.

So here’s Jennifer…

“People love you.”

This was the first line of the very first email Christine sent to me once the literary auction ball was rolling–in particular, when one of our favorite mentors at Mills, Justin Chin, agreed to participate. He was just one of a handful of writers to immediately reply to Christine, “Yes, I want to help Jennifer.”

And then I started to cry.

I made it, dear friends. I’m alive. It has been a little over a year since I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s (April 27, 2010) and almost a year since the outpouring of help, concern, and empathy I was lucky enough to receive not only from our mutual friends but from Christine’s dazzling personal network of friends, colleagues, and peers.

I admit that I cried often from these gestures of love and hope and care, especially from people whom I never met. And I don’t know how to express the depth of my gratitude, how much weight these words would impress on a printed page, how much longer these sentences would run, possibly to infinity if we had that kind of time.

I finished chemo treatments on January 13, 2011. I would’ve finished in December 2010, but I was hospitalized for pneumonia in November and had to delay chemo. It sucked, but I lived through that, too. In the end, I completed six cycles (twelve infusions) of ABVD, the standard Hodge cocktail. And I didn’t need radiation. Victory!

I was declared in remission again on February 3, 2011, which I now consider my Rebirthday. The first time I was in remission was August 2010, after only two cycles (four infusions) of chemo. To be cautious, my oncologist wanted me to continue treatments.

So here I am on my second Cancer Victory Tour in Midwest City, Oklahoma with my dad and his side of the family. For my first Cancer Victory Tour, I was in New York City for three unparalleled and overdue weeks. I took a quick hiatus from NYC and popped over into D.C. when my First Cancerversary (April 27) rolled around. I’ve already celebrated my Rebirthday four times this year, and I don’t intend to stop.

I want you to know, too, that the auction saved me in so many ways. I could not stay on UCSD’s charity care, so the funds paid my hefty share-of-cost for emergency medical coverage–not health insurance–for six months. I saw an acupuncturist regularly during treatments to alleviate nausea, pain, fatigue, and toxicity from chemo. (I’ve recommended this to every cancer patient I’ve met. It made such a difference!)

The funds also helped cover incidentals, such as vitamin supplements, organic food, personal medical aids, and self-care products. I even treated myself once in a while–ice cream, a nice meal out or movie (when my white blood cell count was up), a massage, chemo-hair upkeep (most of my hair stayed…it was just thinner.)

Most important–and this is where I still get weepy–the donations gave me some of my sanity back, as well as respite, dignity, comfort, hope.

To be nakedly honest, it was hard to accept that I deserved such grace, compassion, and generosity. On one hand, and I know how wrong it was to feel like this, I blamed myself for getting cancer; I believed I deserved it because I was irresponsible. I got myself laid off/fired, and I opted out of Cobra, which, ironically, was less expensive than this not-really-health-insurance coverage I have now. Also, maybe I deserved it because I was actually not a good person.

But the auction, the energy around it, and the people involved proved something else to me: no one deserves to be sick like I was (like so many people are these days), and certainly, no one deserves to be abandoned in this context, to be told that one’s cancer was not bad enough to receive emergency federally-funded health insurance. No one should feel like dying in order to be worth saving.

According to statistics, there was never any doubt that I wouldn’t survive. There was a regimen, a go-to list of side effects and meds, scientific evidence. These are the undisputed facts of surviving my cancer, my dysfunctional relationship with The Hodge.

But my doctors never told me about you. They couldn’t have dreamed of such a constellation of support for a patient like me, the dreadful triple threat–uninsured, unemployed, and poor. They didn’t know that besides the cytotoxins “curing” (ravaging) my body, I had friends, friends of friends, and strangers rooting for my survival, psychically making it happen.

Actually, until Christine approached me about this fundraiser, neither did I.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, the entirety of my cancer-free body. I love you, people.


And there you have it. A happy update from Jennifer. 🙂

Jennifer would like to hear from you–so if you’d like to get in touch with her, please leave a comment below. I’ll forward all comments to her.

(for the record, Jennifer’s in the picture above–she’s the one in the running shoes). 😉

Jennifer below: on her last day of chemo with her…chemo, and her fambam in San Diego…


Filed under Literary Auction

False starts

Jaume Plensa's "Echo"

I’ve begun, and not finished, a dozen blog posts for various reasons. I was inspired and then became uninspired, or I began a post, and thought I would get back to finishing, but weeks went by and the topic became dated. Or I had no idea where to go from my opening idea. Or I lost confidence.

This is not unlike my short story writing. I have dozens of short story beginnings–sometimes an opening line, sometimes an opening paragraph, sometimes a first page, sometimes several pages–abandoned for various reasons. It feels wasteful, all these words, but I can only take the best of them as a writer.

Before I became a writer before I became an HR manager, I used to be a recruiter, and I worked with someone who told me, “Recruiting is like kissing frogs–you have to kiss a lot of them to find the right candidate!” For me, short story writing is like kissing frogs. I’ve got to sample the words and feel them, before I know it feels right.

(And sometimes a short story becomes a novel).

(And then, the novel becomes the main affair–at least for me).

For your entertainment (and mine)–a sampling of first lines from ditched blog posts:

  • Sometimes my novel drives me nuts; a put-a-fork-in-my-eye, bash-my-head-against-the-keyboard, utter-a-primal-scream, retreat-to-bed-and-put-the-covers-over-my-head, nuts.
  • Writing the real people into my work I ended there.
  • Michael Chabon touted the Bay Area writing community and it was refreshing to hear someone tout some place other than NYC.
  • At the age of thirty-three, on New Year’s Eve, I had a stroke.
  • I was rifling through feedback awhile back and came across the following comments:
    “I think your character should get off the plane and start exploring New York. And the wife? She should try to stick with him…”
  • I was in the car on a tired Monday morning, feeling all my years, heading to my class of 19 year olds who would further remind me of my time on this planet.
  • I have had several people come up to me and say, with supreme conviction, “I have this feeling that you could be a fantastic spy!”
  • My husband and I were talking about the Electric Light Parade, which I have seen once and only once in my life.
  • I write at a space for writers, situated in the top floor of a downtown office building.
  • I’m in NYC where sometimes I feel like my entire life swells in rich clouds of memory.
  • Being in a new town means making new friends and acquaintances.
  • My childhood bedroom window used to have no sheers, just a patterned blue cotton fabric that my parents urged me to close in the nighttime.

I may get back to these blog posts and finish them. But for now they lay half dressed and waiting.


Filed under Writing

Mother’s Day: still complicated

Mother’s Day is simple and straightforward for some, and complicated for others. While I know that happiness largely abounds on Mother’s Day–it’s also a day that brings up loss and grief for others.

Thought I’d share a post from my archives that shares how I feel about Mother’s Day.

In the last year, I have made changes so that my life is more fulfilling and busy and joyful, so my grief is a bit lessened. (Also, it doesn’t hurt that I now live in a place where strollers are hard to spot). But it doesn’t make the grief go away.

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Filed under The Personal