Writing has always been a part of me. As a kid, I scribbled stories and fairy tales in my purple coil-bound notebook. I wrote for pure pleasure, compelled to do so.
I don’t know if immigrant parents ever encourage their children to pursue a career in the arts. Mine did not. My mom thought it was fine I wrote stories, but never thought it was a realistic career choice. My family and I immigrated to Canada when I was three, in the early eighties, after my parents re-built their lives in Saigon after the American War in Vietnam. My dad dreamed of much more for his two daughters than he ever had. Sadly, after a few years in Canada, he passed away sixteen days before he could realize his dream of becoming a Canadian citizen. My mom became a single mother raising two children in a country not her own. Educated as a teacher in the land of my ancestors, she operated a sewing machine for years and years to provide for us. Growing up in Winnipeg’s West End, the neighbourhood was diverse and vibrant, yet I was aware of cop cars cruising the streets, and mindful as I waited at a bus stop where a girl had been jumped and assaulted.
I don’t believe I lacked anything growing up. We just never had money for anything more than the basics. In high school, I attended the International Baccalaureate program at a high school outside my neighbourhood, where the average income far exceeded that of my neighbourhood. In grade ten, I was excited for the American History class trip to Boston.
“Will mom let me go? It’s educational.” I asked my older sister.
“With what money?” She pointed out. I never asked my mom.
My dream was to major in English and Religion in university. Go on to pursue an MFA. Instead, I got my Bachelor of Commerce degree, and got a steady job in the Public Service of Canada right out of university. I paid my way through university with scholarship money, part-time work, and my sister supplemented the rest. Both of my mom’s wrists required surgery due to repetitive strain injury. Her hands were red and raw in the winter. Her mind was cluttered with worries for me and my sister.
I needed a practical degree and a steady income to be able to contribute financially to the family.
I needed to buy a house with my sister in the suburbs for our mom.
I needed to attempt to repay what my mom had given to me, what she had given up for me.
So I made a choice. I turned away from writing, and set aside those dreams. I sealed away that part of myself. I believed at that time that I couldn’t have it all – writing and my day career. Writing was an indulgence we could not afford.
Fast forward almost twenty years after high school and I am thankful for my life. I have a supportive husband, two kids, and working full-time at a steady day career. A full life. An immigrant parents’ dream. Did my dad peer from beyond the land of the living, proud that I had “made it”?
About a year and a half ago, I looked over the edge of the rest of my life. I felt like I was skipping along the surface. Disconnected. A mother. A wife. A daughter. A worker. But where was I in all of it?
I felt I had space to breathe again with the kids no longer in diapers and needing my constant attention. I gave myself permission to become the star of my own life again. No mom guilt.
“What now?” I asked. Did I want to focus on my day career, to work my way up the corporate ladder? Did I want to learn how to become a better cook? Did I want to concentrate on my running, to train for more half-marathons after running my first one? Not really.
Deep within, I knew what called to my spirit.
I had taken online writing courses throughout the years, through Athabasca, through Humber College, and a Mentorship Program through the Manitoba Writers’ Guild. Just a taste to soothe my spirit and keep me going for the next little while. Starts and stops, a submission here and there, contests entries, bits and pieces of creative non-fiction essays. Last year, I took another online course: How to Write Your Non-Fiction Book at UBC.
It lit a fire under me. I was excited AND I was terrified.
Was I really going to commit to this – to make writing a priority? As a dream, as a fantasy, it was glittery possibility, a mirage always in the distance. To make it a goal was to risk failure, risk disappointment, be exposed and let people read my soul.
To do the hard work, day after day.
To challenge myself to do this thing I said I always loved.
To take a risk and call myself a writer.
I joined Twitter last year and began to immerse myself in the realm of CanLit, inspired daily by thoughtful and insightful authors. I started a blog and started writing about how spirituality manifests in my life. I’m listening to podcasts such as Can’t Lit and Lit Mag Love while on the bus to work. I’m searching for submission opportunities while on the bus. I’m on the outside looking in, seeking to build a writing community, a little bit at a time.
With a full-time job and a busy family life, I’m committed to writing regularly, snatching time from other areas of my life. Stealing moments of time dropping off my daughter at a birthday party and writing in a coffee shop around the corner, visiting the public library during lunch breaks to do research, thinking about a tricky transition in the shower. Late night writing and editing when the kids are in bed, lunches made, and the house tidy (enough). When my brain hurts, peppermint tea and Doritos sustain me, before getting up to go to work the next day. Snatching time whenever I could. And grateful for that time. Doing what I have to do and feeling blessed to be able to do what I love.
Last October, I published my first piece in the Same literary journal and their annual anthology, the piece nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Last month, I published my second piece in Prairie Fire Magazine. And I was blessed to read an excerpt at their 40th anniversary issue launch party. It was a magical experience. My extended family took pictures and asked me for my autograph. My mom and sister were there, beaming, proud – it meant the world to me to share that moment with them. At age thirty-six, I published my first paid publication. Not a great milestone to some who have achieved far greater at a far younger age. Yet for me, it is a powerful and meaningful achievement. Because it took me so long to get here, I appreciate the journey that much more.
I integrate writing into my life now. If I hold on too tight – too much writing and I neglect my health or am not present with my kids or take my husband for granted. If my grip is too loose – too little writing and I miss it, I am cranky with my kids and do not feel like me, losing myself to all my other roles, not honouring myself. I strive every day to achieving the right balance. I fail. I keep trying.
A Hindu proverb states “There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction. So it doesn’t matter which path you take.” I’ve learned that all writers have different journeys and different timelines.
I’ve learned it’s never too late to do what you love. You can only deny your truth for so long. You leak your truth. It bubbles up. It breaks through when it can no longer be denied. I am forever grateful to—and inspired by—authors who lead the way and do the heavy lifting, who hold space for writers from marginalized communities, so I may have a path to walk. As I work toward the day writing may turn into my day career, I’m closer to becoming the person I want to be. I now embrace the writer in me and pursue it as my true life’s journey.
Linda Trinh writes non-fiction and fiction and lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Through her writing, she is exploring spirituality through the lens of her Vietnamese heritage, Buddhist upbringing, love of world mythologies, and travel to sacred spaces around the globe. Her work has appeared in Prairie Fire Magazine and the Same literary journal. She is currently working on her first book, a work of creative non-fiction. Linda may be found online at lindatrinhblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @LindaYTrinh.