Portrait by Tao Nguyen

Friday, October 28, 2011


It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog because I’ve been preoccupied with my 96 year old mother. She just passed away yesterday and in truth, it’s a blessing she’s now at peace. Just this once, instead of picking up where I left off and proceeding in chronological order through my novel, I want to skip ahead to a section of GOOD FORTUNE dealing with aging and death, since this has recently been foremost in my mind.
On page 161 Tong speaks to his son, Wu, about growing old. Wu has expressed alarm over his father’s frail health and Tong wants to reassure him.

“Son, I appreciate your concern about my health, but you must accept the fact that all men grow old. I cannot prevent time from passing, and if I could, I wouldn’t want to. Life has its own rhythm that conforms to our daily existence. It changes with us as we grow and mature. For most of my life I have worked hard, and now, I am getting ready to slow down my pace and take the needed time to rest. I have earned that right, which did not come easily. Do not deny an old man the reward he has labored toward his entire life.”
Until that moment, Wu hadn't realized how much he had taken his father for granted, or that he wanted him to remain healthy and vigorous so he would never die and leave him, like his mother. Even though they clashed for years, his father was always there, a solid presence he now recognized he would lose. This sudden realization forced him to acknowledge that as much as he wanted to change the course of life and keep his father forever young, he knew it was beyond his human power to do so.
Accept the change; that's what Father is saying. I’ll try, but it feels as if he is asking too much of me.

As I stood by my mother’s bed holding her hand watching her struggling to breathe, I observed her fear when she was moved because she had lost her sight. At that moment, all I wanted for her was peace. I stroked her face and reassured her that I was there and everything was all right. She had changed drastically from the mother I remembered. Most of her hair was gone, her eyes were clouded with blindness, and she was helpless and weak. Over the years I had often referred to her as a force of nature because she was so strong and stubborn. She out lived my father by 18 years and became quite independent in her old age. At 90 she had a date book, a cell phone, was enrolled in a college writing class, went shopping and got her hair and nails done every week. Her vision in one eye was failing so she immediately hired a driver to take her to her various appointments. Now 6 and a half years later she was stripped of her independence and that broke my heart. Like Wu, I struggled to accept the change in her.

Tong continues his attempt to soothe the worry from his son.
“In due time, your own sons will become grown men who will feel all that you are experiencing now as you observe how old and withered this body of mine has become. If you can learn acceptance of old age and how it transforms those you love who were once strong and full of spirit into frail tired souls, when it becomes necessary, you will be able to guide your boys with love and compassion as they struggle to accept the changes they perceive in you, when you follow in my footsteps.”

And so it is with the circle of life. Death is a natural part of the cycle and if we are fortunate enough to live long, as we age our bodies change in many ways. Acceptance of transforming from vigorous youths into seniors with aching joints, thinning hair, blurred vision and loss of energy are just a few things we might experience as a lesson in acceptance. Instead of viewing these changes as negatives, we should embrace them with the knowledge and appreciation that we are still able to live, laugh and love. Being mindful and living in the moment without lamenting about what was or what is to come is important to practice. Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that teaches us to do this.

On page 324 Tong makes a promise to Wu that after he dies, he will still guide him. “In the same way that Grandfather has watched over me, I will be there to guide you when the time comes. Death cannot separate us; it will merely change our mode of communication.”

Whether or not you believe in life after death, when a loved one passes away it is a comforting notion that they might still be able to watch over us. Several of my friends have told me they received messages from deceased loved ones in their dreams. One friend even used a teaching method in one of his psychology workshops that his departed girlfriend showed him in a dream, which turned out to be quite successful.

On page 326 Wu contemplates the loss of his father.
Although Tong was physically removed from Wu's life, every day poignant memories of his father came back to him along with the stabbing heartache that each recollection brought with it. Each memory was precious as a perfectly shaped pearl, when all strung together, formed an invisible necklace Wu wore with grief and pride around his neck. It seemed as though he could reach up and feel them, could rub the pearls between his fingers, sensing their roundness and smooth firm texture as he recalled what each one represented.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in 1969 in her ground breaking book, On Death and Dying, there are 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. When you experience the loss of a loved one and go through all 5 stages of grief, think of your memories as the pearls in Wu’s invisible necklace. My hope is that you will ultimately accept the loss with grace and that your heart will be at peace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Poetry is a way to express thoughts and emotions in a way that might not otherwise be possible, and poems come in many forms. By doing a little surfing around I found a website listing 55 formats. Some of the better known ones are free verse, rhyme, haiku, sonnet, ballad, couplet, and limerick. Each has its own distinct characteristics and style. So what about visualization? How can this influence the writing of poetry?

Visualization is a powerful tool and technique for creating whatever you want—whether it be floating on a cloud or walking along a tropical beach with the person of your dreams. It’s a way of achieving a state of complete relaxation and freeing your mind of unnecessary chatter. This is a good thing to do before you meditate. In relation to poetry, visualization is a way of fine-tuning your senses to a heightened state of observation. Then, when you write poetry, the words will emerge from a place deep within your soul. Some people think you must follow the rules of grammar and punctuation but I prefer to say there are no rules or mistakes when writing poetry. Just write what comes out in whatever form it takes and let the words flow without criticism.

In the prologue of GOOD FORTUNE, Grandfather teaches his young grandson, Tong, about poetry. Here is a short excerpt :

            The villagers viewed Tong as a well-educated man, tutored by his grandfather, a respected scholar in his own right, having earned the reputation of being a gifted poet. Grandfather passed on his talent with words to his ten-year-old grandson, teaching him to see using more than his eyes.
            “You’re a fine student, Tong. You have learned history and mathematics, but now I think you’re ready to discover there is more to knowledge than just the basic fundamentals,” Grandfather announced one wet afternoon.
“What else is there to learn, Grandfather?”
“How to write poetry.”
“Poetry? Why is that important?” Tong tilted his head and frowned.
“Anyone can memorize facts and theories, but writing poetry is an art that teaches you lessons with the words you write.”
“I don’t understand.”
“An artist expresses himself with brush strokes on paper and the colors he mixes. It’s the same with a poet who chooses what words to use to paint a verbal picture.”

Here I’d like to interject that a similar metaphor could be used in relation to composing music. The notes on the page are the equivalent of words to a poet, and a painter’s brush strokes. Grandfather’s lesson continues when he suggests that he and Tong take a walk in the rain. They don their raincoats and boots and as they walk down the muddy village road, Tong observes the sights and smells of the damp earth, smoke from a chimney, cooking food etc. When they arrive at the village inn, a dog is rummaging through the garbage out back in search of a bone.

“What do you see, Tong? Look around and tell me,” Grandfather said.
“I see muddy footprints, a hungry dog, and a rainbow.”
“Good. Now close your eyes and tell me what you see.”
“That’s silly, Grandfather. How can I see with my eyes closed?”
“Just do as I say.”
Tong sighed. “All right.”
With his eyes squeezed tight he heard the sound of splashing mud as townspeople walked down the lane, and he almost imagined he could see their sloshing feet leave impressions in the wet ground. The dog found his bone, and Tong heard him chewing it as well as the low growl emitting from his throat when someone came too close. In his mind he could see the dog clearly. The scent of the warm, moist earth filled his nostrils and made him feel happy, so happy that he saw the rainbow.
“I can see, Grandfather. My eyes are closed, but I see the dog and the rainbow and the mud. I see everything.”
“That’s good, very good.” Grandfather nodded and was pleased with his clever grandson. “Before you open your eyes, memorize what you see so you can write about it.”
Back home, Grandfather handed Tong a sheet of rice paper. “I want you to compose a short poem about our walk today and your observations. Two lines only.”
This assignment presented a challenge. Tong had to think long and hard about what to write. Two sentences didn’t give him much to work with. Although this sounded like a simple assignment, in reality it was quite difficult. He took his time and when he was ready, he picked up his brush, moistened it, and ran the bristles across the ink block. The Chinese symbols he wrote were in Kaiti simplified form:

Grandfather, you taught me to see with closed eyes.
I saw a rainbow and tall grass reaching for the sun.

Thus, Tong received his first lesson in visualization and writing poetry. Grandfather taught him to “see” with his eyes closed, and then write about it. When I wrote this section I visualized the characters and every detail around them. I wrote it as prose, but the visualization was so intense I saw everything clearly in my mind’s eye and all I had to do was type as fast as I could to capture the words on paper. Whether you want to write a poem, a journal entry or a novel, first try visualizing and see what happens.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Before I explore another of GOOD FORTUNE's lessons, I want to share a poem with you that beautifully expresses how personal sorrow leads to compassion and ultimately, kindness. I believe its words demonstrate how Tong's sorrow over the loss of his beloved Mei-li affected him so deeply that compassion defined him in every aspect of his life.

To learn more about Naomi Shihab Nye's poems, go to:

Yours in good fortune,


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

GOOD FORTUNE is available on Amazon.com and Kindle.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


"All the peace and happiness of the whole globe,
the peace and happiness of societies,
the peace and happiness of family,
the peace and happiness in the individual persons' life,
and the peace and happiness of even the animals and so forth,
all depends on having loving kindness toward each other."

Lama Zopa Rinpoche

            Tong’s compassionate nature came from two prongs. First, when he was a young boy his grandfather taught him the fundamentals of reading and writing, mathematics and history. But his lessons reached beyond the scope of basics; he also taught Tong to write poetry, for his mind to see with closed eyes, and to teach others in need whenever he encountered them.
One day Grandfather instructed Tong: “At least once in his lifetime, a man of conscience finds himself in the position of being a teacher to one in need of guidance. When faced with this duty, he is obliged to respond. Always remember, you are intimately connected from the moment you realize you have met one who is in need of a teacher and it is you who holds the knowledge they seek.”* Then Grandfather elicited a promise from his young grandson to honor his teaching throughout his adult life.
            The second prong that defined Tong’s compassion was the lingering sorrow over the death of his wife. From a place of suffering, Tong was able to comprehend the pain of others, to respond with compassion and honor his grandfather’s teaching. He practiced compassion by aiding people he encountered who needed his gentle wisdom and guidance.
            The Dali Lama tells us compassion is defined as wanting others to be free of suffering. All sentient beings suffer. By extending our help, compassion can be defined as the highest spiritual motivation. In the realm of good deeds toward our fellow man, kindness outlasts suffering.


To read a sample of GOOD FORTUNE or to purchase a copy please follow the link below. It is also available at BarnesandNoble.com and Smashwords.com.


Yours in good fortune,