Writing from the heart ...
On one of my visits home to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2001, I asked my seventy-year-old father to write a journal about his life and days in Viet Nam.
I said to him in English and part Vietnamese:
"Write whatever comes to mind. Don't worry about time and having things in order. Write from the heart. Write in Vietnamese. Don't worry about the language, or the form. I will figure it out later."
My father did not ask questions or why. He simply nodded and said, "Okay."
Two years later my father gave me his seventy-five page, handwritten journal and said, "My memory is good ... sometimes too good that it can be bad. My writing is not so good. It can be better."
I thanked my father for giving me what will later become the voice and inspiration to MORNING SUN
, a historical fiction about a Vietnamese boy coming of age in wartime.
Clouds. A visible dark mass lingers in the air, lowers and threatens and destroys. Spring arrives.
from 14 December 1944, Thursday
to 2 March 1945, Friday
My parents say I am stronger and smarter than I appear. They have known this from the moment I was born on 8 April 1932 and stretched out my long fingers to touch my father's face. My brother before me was not strong. He died on the second day. My parents do not talk much about my brother's death. When life is difficult, my parents often call out my name, Manh, which means strength in Vietnamese. They say Manh with tenderness and a quiet defiance against the hardships of life.
I am twelve years old. I never doubt my strength and intelligence when I am with my parents, not even when sheets of gray skies linger in the air like today on 14 December 1944. It's that time of the year when the sun fades and disappears, sometimes taking as long as six days to return to Mong Phu, my little village on a low hill, forty-eight kilometers northwest of Ha Noi in Viet Nam. Two hundred people live in Mong Phu, and we have not seen the sun in four days. I know it's impossible, but sitting with my family near a stream, I wonder if the clouds, out of hunger, have eaten the sun.
by Mia T. Starr Listening, I hear my father's voice ... his story in the dark and in the light. I am writing my MORNING
SUN, a historical fiction set in Viet Nam and inspired by my father's journal
. Today, sharing a new scene from MORNING SUN— It is the last day of March 1963.
I am in my new home, a grove away from Heaven’s Pavilion and a short walk from my mother’s house. Today I am with my wife, Lam, and our daughter, Nguyen Thi Hien, our first child together. Hien will be two years old in eighteen days. I swing her around in celebration, my hands secure on her waist. She laughs, dipping her head back to feel the rush of flying high in the air.
“More, Ba,” she says, her arms stretched out as wings, the yellow ribbon in her hair in a swirl of joy. She bends back farther, laughing harder. “More, Ba!”
I twirl my daughter around, going faster and loving her laughter. I do not want it to end.
“Careful, Manh,” Lam says, watching us from our bed, watching us spin. Her small frame curls into a shell. She tries to smile, tries her best to not think about my leaving.
“More, Ba,” Hien says again, the sound of Ba melting me. She claps her hands.
I give my daughter another twirl, raising her up and down on a wave. I swing her to the bed, landing her softly next to her mother. I pull them close to me and take in the scent of their skin. I want to remember this moment.
Lam interlocks her fingers with mine, wanting to stay this way forever, wanting to shut out the war that has brought in America’s advisers, 3,000 elite soldiers, a handful of Air Force pilots, and weapons to aid South Viet Nam against the North, stop our country from falling into Communists hands.
I press my lips to Lam’s forehead knitted with tension.
“I do not want you to leave,” she says, her voice breaking as it always does hours before I return to my base, my duty as a soldier. Her brows crinkle, the underlying fear always there—What if you do not come back?
Hien rolls away from her mother to me, calling out: “Ba? Ba?” In eighteen days she will be two years old. She does not know what is happening, but she knows something is changing. “Ba?”
I kiss my daughter’s forehead and cheeks, kiss her in the same places where my father had kissed me when I was a boy and afraid. I hold my family and clasp tight to Lam’s fingers shaking in the fold.
I want to tell my wife and daughter not to worry, not to be frightened. But I cannot, because each day the rumblings from the North is growing louder with the rallying cry for our country to be one nation under North Viet Nam’s rule.
Hien cries out for me. This time I tell her, “My little one, I’m here. I am right here.”
Thank you, readers, for encouraging me to share the new scene above from MORNING SUN
, my historical fiction in progress. -Mia
MOVING PAST THE FAILED CHAPTERS, hearing Maya Angelou's words of wisdom:
| || |
You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.
Listening and writing my story, my MORNING SUN
, a historical fiction set in Viet Nam and inspired by my father's seventy-five page, handwritten journal.
Moving forward in a new light, I hope you'll join me the next two weeks on June 18 and June 25, 2012 here at the blog for one new scene and a reading from MORNING SUN. Thanks so much for being part of my writing journey.
-Mia COVER ART ABOVE by Janet M. McEwan: WRITING FOR OUR LIVES is a periodical which serves as a vessel for poems, short fiction, stories, letters, autobiographies, and journal excerpts from the life stories, experiences, and spiritual journeys of women. The poem, OF THE SEA, by Mia T. Starr was published
in the 1995 Winter, Volume 3, Number 2 issue of WRITING FOR OUR LIVES
A top story in Anita's Finding Inspiration Daily
and The Becoming Daily
. June 2012.*
I WAS ON A WRITING IMMERSION RETREAT IN TUSCANY
, working on a failed chapter. I nearly gave up on my historical fiction, my MORNING SUN
. Then came my teacher, Stephen Lloyd Webber, who showed me the way. Reading my emails from last summer in Tuscany to family and friends in America. Reclaiming my story, remembering to not give up. -Mia ☼
June 25, 2011. Back to my writing ... then to a 10-minute, private meeting with Stephen Webber
and his wife, Jade Webber
, our teachers and coordinators for the writing immersion retreat. We will discuss my writing project. ☼
June 26, 2011. Last night when I could not sleep, I turned on the lights and returned to my historical fiction in progress, my MORNING SUN. I reviewed the next three chapters, entering the troubled areas of my novel. I did not like what I read. I decided the scenes could be condensed. Combine the chapters, move the story along. I had gone on too long in moments that filled the space without fulfilling the story.
☼ June 28, 2011. The day before yesterday was a struggle to write. I spent seven hours being stuck, trying to find words that refused to form on the page for MORNING SUN. And it was here at the beginning of Chapter Six where I had lost my agents years ago. I stepped away and went to the window for both air and inspiration. I repeated the quote I recently read:
Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, it became a butterfly.
I returned to my desk. The words still did not come. Later that day when I went to check my emails by the window out in the hallway, I saw a caterpillar wriggling and crawling near me. It was in the process of becoming a butterfly. I saw it as a good omen, even if I had felt beaten in the last few hours.
Prior to going to bed I attempted to write again at a table in one of the main rooms. Again nothing came to me. Stephen walked by and asked how my writing was going. I told him it was bad. He sat down, and we talked about the chapter that was giving me trouble. He listened and gave me two ideas that ended up breaking me free.
The next day, the fourth day here at Spannocchia
, I embarked my first writing marathon—a letter per second for three hours straight in the morning, and again for four hours straight in the afternoon. I did not write a letter per second, but I did more than I had ever imagined was possible for me. I made use of two ideas Stephen gave me. In time I found the beginning of my scene and more. I wrote almost four good pages. It also helped that I was not alone in a room trying to write. There were Casey, Melissa, and Rachel doing the writing marathon with me. Stephen had mentioned that this would also help to keep us going; indeed, it did. The other writers's presence kept me moving forward. When on my own at home I would have been lucky to write a page. ☼
July 7, 2011. I am full of gratitude for Stephen's guidance, which made it possible to take my story, MORNING SUN
, to another level.
NAVIGATING MY WAY BACK into history, moving forward with my novel. Above and below are books by my side
and passages marked along the way. Each guiding me. I hear the whispers of a boy between the pages of my father's journal
, see a soldier and a man finding his courage in life. Listening with hope. I am writing a story, writing my MORNING SUN
. -Mia T. Starr
* EVEN THE WOMEN MUST FIGHT--Memories of War from North Vietnamby
Karen Gottschang Turner with Phan Thanh HaoA rosy-cheeked woman, here I am fighting side by side with you men. The prison is my school, the sword my child, the gun my husband. -Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, 1941* PERFUME DREAMS
by Andrew LamThe sun is almost gone now, a tiny golden arc over a darkening sea. On the red sand, the boy's shadow elongates. He turns then, toward the open road. Takes a step. Then another. And the sun disappears entirely. And he, too, is gone.Into memories.Into words.* A GOOD SCENT FROM A STRANGE MOUNTAIN
by Robert Olen Butler
The people in our village believe in ghosts. Many people in Vietnam have this belief. And sometimes a ghost will appear in human form and then vanish. When that happens and you think back on the encounter, you realize that all along you felt like you were near something enormous, like if you came upon a mountain in the dark and could not see it but knew it was there.* THE THINGS THEY CARRIED
by Tim O'Brien
And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It's about sunlight. It's about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow. It's about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.* CITY OF THIEVES
by David Benioff
When he was finished telling his stories, I questioned him about various details—names, locations, weather conditions on certain days. He tolerated this for a while, but eventually he leaned forward and pressed the Stop button on the tape recorder.
"It was a long time ago," he said. "I don't remember what I was wearing. I don't remember if the sun came out."
"I just want to make sure I get everything right."
"This is your story. I don't want to fuck with it."
"A couple of things still don't make sense to me—"
"David," he said. "You're a writer. Make it up." * LARRY BURROWS VIETNAM
Introduction by David Halberstam In 1965, the administration
finally had to bite the bullet and make the fateful decision—all the way in or all the way out. And so it made the commitment to send in combat troops. It was a quantum change: this was now going to be an American war. It was done incrementally, with minimal candor, but no one thought it would add up to 500,000 Americans in Vietnam, and the heaviest bombing in the history of mankind.... the American way of war with its technological superiority favored the swift; but in Vietnam the race was never to the swift, and the other side, the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong, had one critical advantage that the American political leaders had not understood
—they controlled the pace of the war, raising and lowering the level of violence to suit their own needs. "And how long do you Americans want to fight," Pham Van Dong, Hanoi's Prime Minister, asked the American journalist Harrison Salisbury a year later. "One year, two years, three, five years, ten years, twenty years? We will be glad to accommodate you."
I said to my father in English and part Vietnamese:
Write whatever comes to mind. Don't worry about time and having things in order. Write from the heart. Write in Vietnamese. Don't worry about the language, or the form. I will figure it out later.
Listening and trusting the voice. Am writing my MORNING SUN.
No matter how dark the morning, the sun always rises. -Mia T. Starr
THE BEAUTIFUL PAINTING, Self Portrait of a Bear
(featured in the photo above), sits in my home and reminds me I'm on the right path. It was a gift and sage painted by the talented, lovely Jade Webber
. It arrived on one of those days when doubts were creeping into my writing, halting my progress with questions. The familiar critic was sounding off, deafening in my ears:Sure, you can write a few good scenes, but it's another matter to be able to write a good story and hold a reader's interest to the end. You already failed twice with MORNING SUN. You know that, right? Two completed drafts, and now you're attempting a third. Can you be taken seriously when you're a woman writing in the voice of a boy, son, soldier, and father? Even with your dad's journal and inspiring life to guide you, do you really believe you can save the story you're trying to write? Save yourself from more failures and put away this work of fiction.
The Bear—so regal, wise, and calm—had something different to say. On the other side of him was a note from Jade, bringing me back to a place of trust: Think of this bear as a sage or a guide who will provide wise council at need.
On that day I placed the Bear on my desk and in front of the computer screen. His presence, embodying the spirit of a sage and friend, encouraged me to write and not worry about getting each sentence in a perfect state. Keep writing. Keep going. For a long time my fingers remained frozen on the keyboard, my eyes staring at the messy page on the screen. The critic, retreating, was still there. The
Bear, a steady force, pushed back the doubts with inner calm and strength. My fingers started to move across the keyboard
, deleting the unnecessary scenes, connecting letters, forming words. A sentence appeared, then another. This time I did not judge what I had written. I looked up at the Bear and felt the presence of
Jade, family, friends, followers, and readers. I listened to their council and kept going, kept writing. Each day I answered the critic. Word by word.
A top story in Anita's Finding Inspiration Daily
and VirtualDavis Daily Digest
. May 2012.*
For readers interested in purchasing a limited print edition of Self Portrait of a Bear
by Jade Webber, follow us here to Etsy
. For more paintings from Jade, join us here at Art to Save Trees
. Also visit Jade and her husband, Stephen Lloyd Webber, at their Wellness Immersion Retreats in Italy, Bali and the Caribbean
, bringing together creative writers, painters, yoga practitioners, and those interested in sustainability, nature and self-development. These wonderful retreats give you time, space, and structure to work creatively. *
The sun is rising.
The ocean is speaking.
The moon is dreaming.
* THE MOMENTS BEHIND THE PHOTOS ABOVE
(sun, ocean, moon, and wind from top to bottom)—Mia at the Shadowcliff
in Grand Lake, Colorado for the 13th Annual Lighthouse Writers Retreat in 2010. She steps out to meet the sun. * Stephen Lloyd Webber
(Mia's fantastic writing teacher at the Writing Immersion Retreat in Tuscany
in 2011 and 2012) shares a breathtaking photo of the ocean near Heaven Hill in Big Sur, California, where he and his wife, Jade Webber
, are building a private sanctuary for writers and artists. *
At night walking with the moon, dreaming and imagining. *
Mia remembers the moment from September 2009. She is on the mountains of Boreas Pass in Colorado, holding a prayer arrow. The wind is whispering. Mia closes her eyes and makes her wishes, trusting all will come to be.**
A top story in Anita's Finding Inspiration Daily
and The Becoming Daily
. May 2012.*
Matt with his classmates at Northwestern.
we reach the last installment of my chat with Matt, Part IV, which includes Matt's featured articles, video assignments, and a special photo slide below.
We remember the words of Henry David Thoreau:I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
From here to there, wishing you all the best as you move forward in your endeavors and dreams. Thanks for being here and celebrating Matt's inspiring journey. I hope you will
join me again next week on Monday, May 7, 2012, for a special photo post
It will be the first in a series of moments from my writing journey, leading to a new post here each Monday from May through June 2012. There will be a few surprises, including a new scene from my historical fiction in progress, MORNING SUN.
-Mia MIA'S CHAT WITH MATT, PART IVWhen you are not studying or working on your next story, interview, or feature, what do you like to do most? Where can your family and friends find you?
I think I'm a pretty typical guy in my down time. I like to sit on my butt and watch TV—sports (pretty much everything but soccer), go to sporting events around the city (Dad is Bears, Bulls and Sox season ticket holder). I also love to watch any type of comedy, TV show or movie—Parks and Rec is my favorite show at the moment.
I like to go out to the bars with my friends on the weekend and chill with a few cold ones. I also enjoy exploring Chicago with my girlfriend or just staying in and watching a movie with her.
I also love to sit down and play piano every now and then. Played for 14 years growing up so I still can remember some of my old songs. Finally, my new goal is to be a journalist who doesn't have to worry about living in a cardboard box, so I've just started investing my money in the stock market. I find it to be pretty intense and exciting.
What projects are you currently working on in your pursuit of a full-time career in journalism?
I'm covering the housing and neighborhood issues beat. They don't offer a sports program here at Northwestern
, so I'll have to settle for becoming a well-rounded journalist for now. But I've still been able to work a little sports into my coverage. I've written stories about Wrigley Field and videotaped a story about Chicago Housing Authority kids hanging out with the Blackhawks
. I even got to do a one-on-one interview with Hawks goalie Ray Emery
, which was a pretty cool experience. This quarter I am taking Chicago broadcast and am focusing less on print journalism and more on the area I want to go into. A year from today, what would you like to see happen in your life?
I really don't have high expectations for coming out. I feel like I'm trying to be more realistic. Getting a job in journalism these days is extremely tough. So I'll be happy with any job as a sports reporter or anchor. I have a friend who I interned with at CBS who is now working in Grand Forks, ND. While North Dakota doesn't sound too glamorous, he tells me he loves going to work every day, and that's all I really want. So if I'm living in Montana next year covering Buffalo pies, I won't be upset. I know I need to start somewhere before I can work my way up to my ultimate goal—which is being a sports anchor in a major market.ARTICLES by Matthew Michaels: *
For more articles by Matt, follow us here
. Below is also a selection of Matt's video reports, including Man on the Street - Ban Eating (Matt's first video assignment), 2011 Carl Schurz Girls' Basketball Shoot-A-Thon, Job applicants get 'suited' for interviews (Bridge to Success
), and Samson Adams Profile.
Previous installments of Mia's Chat with Matt:
CONNECTING AND SHARING OUR JOURNEYS, we welcome you to Matt's photo album highlighting moments from his childhood when he had dreams of being a broadcaster and sports journalist to where he is today: following his dreams and surrounding himself with people who believe he can. We celebrate the joys and success that will always come from trying and doing our best.
Mike Wilbon and Matt Michaels.
IF YOU DON'T LOVE IT, don't do it. -Michael Wilbon
Continuing my chat with Matt, we meet another special person, Michael Wilbon, who was in town last year in November for a Northwestern football game. On that same day he volunteered to host a Q&A with 50 students. Matt was one of those students, listening and taking in an inspiring session. Below is a video highlighting moments from the Q&A with Mike Wilbon.
Thanks so much for being here. -Mia
MIA'S CHAT WITH MATT, PART III Last year you met Michael Wilbon, the former sports columnist at The Washington Post, who is now with ESPN. How was it meeting Mr. Wilbon and what do you remember most from that event?
Mike Wilbon is one of the most down to earth people I've met. When you see people on TV, you always wonder if they are a completely different person off camera. But that is not the case with Wilbon—what you see is what you get.
He was in town for a Northwestern football game and volunteered to host a Q&A with 50 students in the football press box after the game. I was lucky enough to get on the list because I responded to the email invite right away. Anyways, he spent more than two hours answering our questions—everything from Michael Jordan to diversity in the newsroom. He was extremely candid and didn't shy away from any questions.
I even worked up the nerve to ask him if the Cubs would win a World Series in his lifetime, and whether or not he thought the Billy Goat curse was real?
He just shook his head and said "No chance in hell they win a world series in my lifetime." He went on to say the curse is real and he doesn't think he can suffer much more as a die-hard Cubs fan. He spent a good 10 minutes going on about all of the heartbreak he's experienced, and as a Sox fan, it was fun to hear.
The best thing about the entire Q&A—it was his birthday! And instead of going out with his kid and wife right after the game, he took time to take and answer all of our questions and then pose for pictures afterwards. He was an incredible person and it felt like I was just talking to a regular guy—not a celebrity. And that's the kind of person I hope to be one day.