In the world of my personal favorites, two of my favorite things to write about are Andrew Lam and handwriting. Andrew Lam for his ability and adaptability. He came here as an eight-year-old from Viet Nam and is now a grown man of enormous talent, intelligence, humor, warmth, elegance, dignity and zeal for all things modern. To listen to his immigration story is a joy and an education in the reality of having a culture change forced upon you. Having to redefine himself as an American boy when he was a child of war and witness to atrocities, took some doing under the eyes of boys in his class who wanted to know about the death he saw.
Enter his adaptability and talent. Andrew is an accomplished and gifted writer, whose stories of Vietnamese immigration are clear, human and charming accounts even when they are painful lessons in what it means to let the past go only to re-capture it in maturity so that nothing of self is lost permanently in the journey from childhood to adulthood.
Across the generation of his own life and a distance of almost 8,000 miles away, Andrew brings all his worlds together in his writing. Andres embraced all that was new. He works at New American Media, where, by the way, several of his articles are posted for you to read.
One of Andrew’s most recent love letters is included in his book East Eats West as a tribute to an American English teacher of his. You could make a case for all his stories being love letters, and, indeed, had they been written on stationery and in his own handwriting and mailed to various people, you would have a gorgeous collection of what I like to consider actual love letters. Andrew and I have talked about this, and he was dear enough to send me, just the other day, an article he wrote about letters in one’s own hand and the lost art of letter writing.
I encourage you to go to that site and read this delicious essay yourself, but for the gist of it now I offer you the following: He writes about a friend who is in much more contact with him now than ever before thanks to the internet, but who misses him more than ever. Andrew wanted to know how and why that could be. The answer came back to him via email a short time later in his friend’s message. “Late last night the rain fell. It dripped and dropped against my windowsills announcing the departure of a lethargic winter. Yet I didn’t mind the winter nights. What I fear is the warmth of summer. When my skin turns bronze and when that afternoon sun lingers a bit too long on my shoulders, oh L. I get in trouble.”
By the time Andrew got to the end of this paragraph he realized it was his own writing, a letter he had written to this friend two decades early, and he mentions that he regrets not doing this any more. He laments that his friend does not do it either. Andrew says, “the only people who write good letters are the old or those living in refugee camps or in prison”.
I say, “Ouch!”
Even though the longing this paragraph evoked in Andrew was not surprising, I think that it is emotionally important to read it in his own words. When we write letters we give ourselves to someone in a way that cannot be done via internet. Not that internet isn’t a miracle of a gift, and I, personally, am pretty much addicted to it, but an emailed letter it is not the same as a love letter.
The good news here for authors is that whose who may feel too busy to write love letters, and may not even know any more where to find appropriate writing paper, happen to have the perfect stationery right there in front of them. That first blank page of their book. What a perfect place to write a love letter and put it right in someone’s hand or send it by the US mail, which is, by the way, your best partner in sending love messages.
Not an author but love a book and want to share it? You, too, can use that first blank page to write a sensational love letter to someone for whom you have bought this book. Oh, bought the book for yourself? Great, write that love letter to yourself. Perfect opportunity to say what you want to hear about you.
And, as a little P.S. here, First, thank you, Andrew, for sharing your article with me. And, Next, I don’t think the art of writing letters is lost. Floundering, but not lost. We can turn the tide on that woebegone diagnosis with a little effort and leave a paper-trail of love behind us for future generations to find.
More good news. You have two opportunities to meet Andrew and hear him talk about his new book and, hopefully his old life. It is a little ahead of time, but you might want to mark it in your calendar so it will not slip by you. He will be at Eeastwind Books on April 7th and at Book Passage on May 9th. One of the nicest things about meeting Andrew, next to getting to know this remarkable man, is how good you can feel about yourself from listening to him. This is, I think, the mark of a very good teachers and writer. While he is writing about himself and his own experiences, the magic of his work is that you will find yourself in there, too.
From me to you with love in the air,
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