Thursday, July 3, 2014

Making A—Part II

        Grace Lin has always been one of my family's favorite authors, so when I noticed a flyer at the Hawaii State Library that she was coming to town for a children's literature conference with free activities for kids, I decided we'd attend. 
     The highlight for me, I knew, would be the book signing, when we'd get to meet her in person. We had an old copy of her Year of the Dog purchased used for twenty-five cents at a library sale years before. But since authors' books would be available for purchase, to not look totally cheap I decided we'd give her something to remember us by, especially since I also intended to ask her for whatever assistance she might be willing to provide with my writing career. So I fashioned a script in which we'd all play parts, state our names and something about ourselves, and most important, shower her with tons of aloha.
     As we did our read through before our dining room table opposite a chair where we imagined she sat, the outstanding performers that recited lines with gusto and intent were Jaren and myself. The others dribbled their lines like leaky faucets, mumbling with this-is-so-lame expressions. Cajoling these underachievers didn't work: Braden and Penelope saw Deanne's indifference and copied.
     I seldom employ guilt as a motivator but since asking nice didn't help, I ended up saying, “You act as if you think, This is Dad's dumb thing, why should I have to do it,” and as Deanne started walking away, “This is for you, too!” then back to the others: “Did I act that way when we went to the Fiftieth State Fair and waited hours in the hot sun for you guys to finish your rides?”—hand on Jaren's head: ”Not you buddy, you did super!”— then again to the others: “No I made the most of it and we all had great times. Now I'm asking this one small thing—five minutes—and you give me attitude?”
     Deanne slinked away and I followed her down the hall and asked if we could talk in our bedroom. Neither of us were angry but she still showed disengagement so I made sure I could still visualize how nice it would be—challenging, yet fun—and since I could I said, “Now think of Grace Lin. Here she is. She's been doing dozens of these things and seen hundreds of people just go up and get their books signed, thank you, and that's it. That won't do anything for her or us. If we come up with something new, great. But if we do it like we just did, she'll think, 'Wife's not into it, no way I'm helping the guy and getting between them.' On the other hand if she sees us together—one big happy family—she'll more likely think, 'Sure why not? They seem happy. I'll do it for them.'"
     Noting Deanne's continued noncommittal mien, I segued into a long narrative about why I write and possible future courses it could take—good and bod—and how it could affect our family, emphasizing the need for cohesiveness to make it happen. Because she then seemed more receptive, I concluded with, “As wife you're supposed to take the lead on this”—clapping, I demonstrated—“'Come on, let's go,'” I said perky, “'Let's do this, this is gonna be fun'—instead of acting all dopey and giving them an out to act dopey too.”
     She then, apparently recalling what a wonderful husband I'd been, capitulated and said she'd do better next time, which, because it was getting late, we agreed to save for another day.
     That evening, I asked Braden in private, ”Did you ever read a book that you thought wasn't as good as one of my stories?” Yeah, he said with a smile. “Then that means I deserve to be published, right?” He nodded. “Then you've got to show it when we do this. Sell it. Mean it. Show her that you believe in me. If you—my own son—don't, why should she?” Repentant, he agreed to re-recite his lines, which he did for me measured and sincere in no time.
     The next evening, I did the same with Penelope who agreed to do better. She wept a bit when she had to repeat her lines a few times but soon enough, they too came together convincing and real.
     It was a simple matter after that for us all to gather together the next afternoon and rehearse—three times is all it took.
     The day of the festival, we sat waiting for the book signing line to shorten. To make time go faster, I huddled us together excited, said, “Okay, let's practice one more time,” and passed Braden and Jaren the gifts that they'd present to Grace Lin. Penelope had the book and would tell her if asked to address her comment to “PBJ” (short for Penelope, Braden and Jaren). Whispered words and hidden gestured came together smooth, sincere, and most important happy—we were the strong family unit I had envisioned. It wasn't artifice, it just took hard work to get there since with the exception of Jaren—the natural performer–we all tend toward stage bashfulness. (Earlier that afternoon an abbreviated play at the festival by capable U.H. students served as object lessons in both commitment and dedication. “See how good they are? They're selling it, right?” I asked the kids, to which they smiled and nodded. “Now you know why they were practicing when we first arrived. It's not easy, even for them.”)
     As we stood waiting in line in assigned positions (kids in front, parents in back), Deanne held my hand and asked if I was nervous. I admitted I was so she put an arm around me and leaned in close, giggling along with me and flashing her winning smile. I did side and leg stretches to loosen up just before our turn.
     Then, last in line by design, we went forward and Penelope presented the book. As Grace Lin drew a picture of a dog (like on the cover) I said “Wow, original drawing!” and on cue when Penelope received the book back I leaned forward and said, “Do you have a couple of moments? We have something we'd like to present you?” to which she smiled, blinked, and nodded. Pulled up tall, I said with a gesture to match, “My name is Tim. I'm fourth generation Hawaii resident: Yonsei.”
     Next, Deanne introduced herself and said, “I'm from South East Asia. I crocheted this lei for you.”
     Braden draped the lei around her neck then introduced himself and said, “I will be entering high school this fall. When I was young, my favorite book was The Ugly Vegetables. We love to eat Jai.”
     Next Penelope introduced herself and said, “I did a book report on Year of the Rat. I said I liked the part when your mom ate cat food.”
     Engaged, yet as if from a far away place Grace Lin said, “My mom...”
     Then Jaren introduced himself and said, “Please read my dad's blog for me if not for him.”
     “Sure,” she said quiet as Jaren brought forth a hidden hongbao (lucky red envelope) with two hands held close.
     We then acted out and said the following in unison: hands cupped together, bobbed up and down: “Xie xie;” hands at sides and bowing forward: “Domo arigato!” right hand in front with fingers flashing a shaka: “Mahalo!” and drawn out backhand throwing-kiss motion with sweeping shoulder turn: “And Alooooha!”
     True to her word Grace Lin read this blog several days later and even posted to her blog @ on June twenty-fourth a photo of the hongbao, folded letter, and token monetary gift we gave her; gracious thoughts about my family and gifts (the money of which she said she'd donate to charity); and a direct hyperlink to this blog at which readers could access my “hilarious essays.”
     In hindsight, our making A (doing something embarrassing in public) had been well worth it and fun besides. I can't remember the last time our family got so excited doing something together. And we had done well (except that I got far too nervous, my left leg shaking by the time we'd finished).
     Thank you Grace Lin if you're reading this—you went far beyond the call. I pray that God will bless you and your family not so much for what you did for us (Were we excited? Yes!) but for being humble and gracious to all.  As stated in my posted comment to your blog, please consider making Hawaii your second home—you, your family, and friends won't regret it! Come to think of it, your heart's already filled with aloha spirit, so upon moving, you'll fit right in.

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