Feb 29, 2020

About Writing

First, thank you so much for the overwhelming response to It Ok Please  not only on the blog, but on FB, and the many emails. I love to know someone reads this stuff and if it resonates, that's even better.

Over the years, I repeatedly get certain comments or questions about these stories, and thought I'd address some of them.

You Should Write a Book

Thank you, but no. I don't walk around with a ton of memories and stories -- rather, something usually triggers a particular memory.

In the case of It Ok Please, I was talking to a sales guy at Apple the other day. One thing led to another and he shared that his mother was an orphan, born in South Vietnam of a South Vietnamese woman and an American soldier. She was immediately placed in an orphanage as "mixed" children were shunned. Eventually his mother made it to the United States, where the Apple sales guy was born.

Afterwards, I thought about the influx of Vietnamese into Arlington, VA and all the clients I had. I thought about the refugees I see every week at the International Rescue Committee and suddenly remembered the young woman who came to my office in Arlington with a little girl and a short letter written in Vietnamese. I can still see them sitting there. I kept remembering more details and wondered whatever happened to them. I felt something (sadness, satisfaction, respect, gratitude, etc) during that memory, and it is those feelings that prompt the writing.

I don't have the patience to store those feelings and stories for a book. It is usually a matter of only a day or two from the time an idea for a story comes to me to the time I publish it -- if the story doesn't write itself, it isn't worth telling, and I like getting out the feelings. Waiting to collect all the stories into a book that maybe might get self published one day 5 years from now would be frustrating for me. 

So, thanks for the encouragement. It is very kind, but no book.

Are The Stories True?

Yes. I am not creative enough to make up these stories. Plus, legal issues provide a lot of drama all on their own -- that's why there are so many movies, TV shows, and news programs about law. Add poverty to the mix, and as I've said before, these stories write themselves.

I do add or change details to protect privacy or to paint a clearer picture. For example, in It OK Please, I remembered that Bian's father was a wealthy professional. I couldn't remember exactly what he did, so I made him a doctor. It got across the point, and his exact profession isn't central to the story. Using the word "doctor" is more human, specific, and descriptive than "wealthy professional," and part of writing these stories is to paint a picture that the reader can imagine. And if I had remembered he was a doctor, I would have changed that detail to some other profession because I must protect the privacy of my clients.  That's why sometimes I also change ages, hair color, etc. 

You Are a Wonderful Person

This one sort of cracks me up!

I didn't have a clerkship or job lined up for after law school graduation. The job market was tight and, while I graduated in May, I still had to take the Bar Exam in July and then wait for the results (October). So my first job after law school was a cashier in a drug store.

The day after the bar exam results were announced I got a phone call from a new legal aid office in Norfolk, VA. Did I want an interview? Interestingly, I hadn't applied for any legal aid jobs but some organization to which I had submitted by resume passed it on to the legal aid office. I got the job (I found out afterwards that they wanted to hire a woman who had passed the Bar).

Unlike doctors, lawyers don't go through a formal apprenticeship. I had no training, no knowledge of relevant Virginia law, no formal supervision. I hadn't participated in the legal aid training clinic in law school because I had no intention of litigating after I graduated. Despite all this, I started seeing clients my second day of work.

It wasn't pretty.

I don't write much about those cases ... or the routine (to me, not my clients) cases, or the people who left my office as broken as they arrived. Being poor doesn't make you a nice, sympathetic person. My clients were human and could be as frustrating as all the other humans in my life! I lost many of my cases, particularly ones involving money, either because the law or the facts, or both, weren't on our side. Legal aid provides clients a chance, but doesn't guarantee a happy outcome.

So, before you think I was all that wonderful saving the world, remember you are only reading a slice of the job and through my filter. I wasn't doing this work out of a generosity of spirit or with super legal skills -- I needed a job and it was the first offer I got. I lasted 10 years and I was a lot better at it when I left than when I started. I'm happy it worked out as it was a great way to start my career, and it gave me a foundation to appreciate my life.

I got way more out of it than I gave.


MyLittleBlueDog said...

If you improved one life that is a great success.

Janet said...

I call it Serendipity. I was in the right places at the right times with the right skills--and the right people who saw "something" in me to give me an opportunity. In this goal-oriented, plan-within-an-inch-of-your-life era, I now sometimes wonder how I made it at all. But I learned each step of the way. And I, too, got much more out of it all than I ever imagined, one story at a time. Please keep sharing when those memories trigger your "something".

Andrew and Bertha Pilgrim said...