05 August 2010

My own "My Life with the Lincolns" moment...

Of course, My Life with the Lincolns was my most recent read, and a book written by my longtime mentor Gayle Brandeis. The narrator of the story, 12-year-old Wilhelmina Edelman ("Mina"), fancies her family to be a reincarnation of the Lincoln family, due to her father's initials being ABE. (Turns out that Gayle's own father had AIB as his initials - and she felt the same way about him as a child.) And when toward the end of the book, Mina and her father visit the Lincoln house in Springfield and eventually the family grave, Mina feels that she is meeting her previous life - Willie Lincoln, who died at age 11 - face-to-face.

I actually had the same feeling today. Turns out that my paternal grandmother in South Korea, who had passed away three months short of my birth, recently had to have her grave moved due to zoning changes. (I did know from a visit to her cemetery in late 2008 that the cemetery was slated for closure very soon.) Today, I received some photos, dated October 2009, from the move, including final shots of her old grave, the exhumed remains, and the photos of the new grave.

I do feel that my grandmother may as well have been a past life of myself; after all, looking at her photos taken in her 60s (she died at age 70), she has a trademark family look, especially in her eyes, that I notice in my own photos, and had pink miniskirts existed during her younger days, she may have looked strikingly similar to me. I also know that she was a forward-thinking progressive, who attended a boarding school in Shanghai at a time when women were supposed to not even learn how to read, and who converted to Christianity due to it being the religion of modernity and progress. (Ironically, I am leaving her religion, in search of my own progress and modernity.) I also do know that she brought a very holistic approach to Christianity, as unlike most Korean Christians, she practiced it in the multifaith coexistence mentality of traditional Korean society, and kept extremely good relations with neighborhood Buddhist monks and even had Confucian and Buddhist ceremonies done for her family. (Also why my father and his family would continue to take an extended family trip together to Buddhist temples, such as Jikjisa, a stop on my 2008 Korean road trip.)

As I saw the photo of the opened old grave, with my grandmother's bones lying inside, as well as the next photo showing her bones cleaned and neatly arranged, it seemed like she was speaking to me in a way - about my past life. I do know that she was patting my mom's belly when she was pregnant with me, hoping to witness my birth but never quite making it. I do feel that her pioneering, forward-thinking spirit was passed on to me as she passed - and as her remains saw the light of day for the first time in over 33 years, it seemed that my past has risen out of the ground it had been buried in, and wants to speak to my present so that I can take it into the future.

It appears that I will go ahead with my return visit to South Korea very soon - but the exact format/purpose of the trip may change dramatically. Once there, I will make sure to visit the new grave, make this spiritual connection with my grandmother, and push ahead with my own life the way my grandmother had done during the treacherous years involving exodus from the North and the wartime poverty.

Back to Gayle, I attended another reading of hers tonight - but this time it dealt with her other new novel, Delta Girls, which I am currently working on. She shared some more tricks of the trade; while she had discussed her Korean cultural immersion during her work on The Book of Dead Birds, this time she also mentioned that the cultural immersion included listening to Korean-language conversations and getting the cadence and rhythm right, to somehow reflect into her sentences. Pleasant-sounding cadence and sentences is something I tend not to think about too much, but it does make a book more readable - and mixing up sentence lengths was done in Delta Girls for a similar effect. Another trick worth thinking about is grabbing some unusual, outrageous details from a given subject (such as all the wacky worm names used by fruit pickers in the Sacramento River Delta farms) to grab the reader's attention; for me and Sarah, the key may be using technical aviation lingo and/or terminology specific to United Airlines (such as "2P" to indicate Premier elite frequent flier level). (And speaking of flight attendants, Gayle tells me that her teenage daughter Hannah is thinking of becoming one for a few years, for the experience.)

Always glad to be able to pick up tips and hints from a trusted mentor. Now let me see if I can write a scene or two that brings out Sarah's essence (perhaps she works a practice flight to Denver, where she is surprised with a flight simulator session). Or something that brings the past and present together - like the Mina-Willie connection (or my connection to my grandmother's remains). Perhaps Sarah, despite hating being Sanford, does feel a kinship to her great-grandfather Sanford; Sarah may visit Great-Grandpa Sanford's tomb when she is on an England layover, and this may also better explain why when Sarah and Kirsten have their biological child from Sarah's saved sperm, the child, a son, will again be named Sanford.

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