New Year's Eve is tomorrow and, like many of you, I'll probably stay up counting down to midnight and ring in 2014 while saying goodbye to 2013. And, like many of you and many media outlets, I'll look back on the big moments of the year; at least in terms of my life, anyway. Honestly, the year is gone and nothing can be changed but I suppose I look back to remember fond moments, to try and learn a lesson or two not to be repeated in the new year and, perhaps, even to see what might make for good writing material and story ideas. It's also interesting and, I think, worthwhile to see if I've changed in any way with regard to how I view things or in how I respond to things.
So, without further ado and not in any particular order, here are my moments, good and bad, happy and sad (in some cases both), of 2013.
1. Meeting Rod Dixon. I try to go to the New York Marathon Expo every year and this year I brought my son with me. By chance, as we strolled the aisles looking for the Timex booth and the adidas and New Balance shops, I came across a guy who was handing out 3x5 postcards of Rod Dixon, his arms raised, when he won the New York City Marathon in 1983. When the guy asked if I wanted to meet Rod (I'm going to call gim Rod and not Mr. Dixon because runners are very intimate people), I was more than enthusiastic. You see, I've run the NY City Marathon (NYCM) twice. I was supposed to run it in 2012 but Hurricane Sandy derailed that. I've also, in the late 1990s and early 2000s (there was a gap year from about 2000-2001 when I didn't run much), been a very serious runner. Apart from work, I scheduled everything else around my running. Well, I owe a lot of my devotion to running and my passion for marathoning and the NYCM to Rod. In 1983, when I was growing up in Hong Kong, I watched a sports program on a Tuesday night and it featured that year's NYCM, obviously via tape delay. Well, Rod never led at any point in that race but, when he burst through with just yards to go and won, it was - and still is - one of the most exciting moments in sports I've ever seen. He showed athleticism, persevarance, courage and good old fashioned "To hell with it, I'm going for it!" gusto. Seconds after watching the clip, at the time not fully aware what a marathon really was, I pointed to the television screen and said, "I'm going to run that race." And, like I said, I have twice - in 1995 and 2005. Unfortunately, I was undertrained in both occasions and not as fit as I wanted to be. So, I'm determined to run it again, properly this time, and after meeting Rod and speaking with him I'm reenergized to do so. Rod was at the expo promoting his Kids Marathon Foundation and having my son with me, he gently reminded me that I need to get back to fitness so my son never falls out of it. "What you do, he does," Rod said and ever since then it's become one of my my mantras. Thank you Rod. It was a pleasure meeting you.
2. My son entering kindergarten. This, and all the paper filing and appointments to get it done, was one of the most momentous moments of 2013. For one, from a practical standpoint, it meant no more day care which, in turn, meant less money out of pocket. And, who cant stand to keep money from going out? More than that, however, it was - as obvious as it was - a sign that my son is growing up. The last five years have gone by in a flash and I can only imagine the next five going by just as quickly. Kindergarten has seen my son grow in all aspects - physically, mentally, emotionally, socially - which is expected but it's his love for school that really makes an impression on me. He sincerely enjoys his teacher and classmates and he loves learning. Making his lunches everyday, checking the work he brings home, attending Back-To-School events and Teacher Conferences, watching the winter concert are all warm blankets around my and my wife's hearts that our son is becoming a 'person.' They also make me look back when I was that age and the things I went through and, as parent, being able to guide and advise him, not from gut reaction or because a parenting book said to do it a certain way, but from experience and wisdom. From the moment my son was born, I became a father. Now that he's in school and has his own interests and friends, I'm becoming a dad.
3. Pope Francis. Can I say it or is it too soon? I love Pope Francis. His approach to leading the Catholic Church is fresh and openminded. I love how he's focusing on the individual and not on issues. When he said that a person doesn't have to believe and can still be a good person, a spark lit inside me. His deemphasis on abortion and homosexuality is refreshing, too, as is his approach to let local churches manage their own congregations. For me, he's rejuvenated the Catholic Church and humanized it. This year wasn't the first time a pope resigned and a new one was appointed but it's the first time in my lifetime and, in many ways, it's made me feel that the Catholic Church has become more accessible and approachable. Growing up, the Catholic Church was - and I guess still is - this large, enigmatic entity with secrets and hidden practices and, of course, God. The pope, too, was someone who was supposed to lead his flock, whether he wanted the position or not, until he died. In my lifetime, Pope Francis's appointment is the fourth I've been through. For the first two - the appointments of John Paul I and John Paul II - though, I was eleven or twelve, maybe ten, and I remember my mother making me get down on my knees, with her, and pray for the pope each time. I didn't even really know what was happening. As an adult, though, watching CNN and EWTN coverage of Pope Benedict's and Pope Francis's appointments and with Pope Francis's humility and openness, the Catholic Church has, for me, been demystified and isn't as sacrosanct as it once seemed. And that's a good thing.
4. Review and endorsement by IndieReader.com. IndieReader.com is a major website that promotes independently published books. In 2013, I managed to link up with IR and my book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, was read and reviewed by one of its staffers. Back Kicks got a 4 star rating (out of 5) and received 'approved' status to boot. This wasn't the first review my book received and it wasn't the first positive review either but it was the first review from an outlet that is seen widely by the writing, literary and publishing communities. It was also highly validating to read such a positive review and to know that this, my first novel and a very personal labour of love, has value outside my own mind and heart. The reviewer called Back Kicks "a pertinent novel" and that, to me, is much more meaningful than being told my book is good or liked or written well. Click here for the review.
5. and 6. Invitation to enter my book in the Asian American Literary Awards (AALA). This gets two spots because it impacted me in two ways - one positive and one less than positive. I don't want to say negative because, really, it wasn't but it did bum me out. The AALA is run by the Asian American Writers Workshop (AAWW), the main outlet for Asian American literature in the United States. When I received an email from one of the AALA's organising team members inviting me to enter Back Kicks And Broken Promises, naturally I was elated. I wouldn't say I felt that I'd arrived but I felt that my work was starting to get recognition. In the email, the words "your book needs to be considered" - without a doubt, an emphatic endorsement - struck me hard. The AALA, a arm of the AAWW knows my work! For sure, some kind of breakthrough into the world of Asian American literati had been made. But, here's where the bum out takes place. The AALA does not accept self-published books; at least not those from a print-on-demand (POD) outlet. If my book was self-published through a small indie press it would still have been considered. The fact that it's POD disqualified it. I wasn't sure what to feel. I knew about this rule when I'd received the invitation and I was the one who brought it to their attenton. Part of me wishes I hadn't, to be honest. In a way, I wish I'd never gotten the invitation because, in the end, it was an unintended tease. In a way. Honestly, I'm glad I did. Having gotten it and with the strong endorsement that it came with, I did feel a win of sorts. I knew, again, that someone other than myself values my book and, as an Asian American author, who better than to value it than the AAWW and the AALA. Hopefully 2014 will see me get an agent and a publisher so my books are traditionally published and, if considered again by the AALA, they can actually be accepted.
7. and 8. My son starting Taekwondo lessons. This is another double-edge sword of an event. I'm ecstatic that my son has started Taekwondo lessons and that he loves them. I'm also glad for the school he's going to. It's local, the masters teach a great curriculum and are excellent in their demeanour and technique, and the school is current with how things are done in The Kukkiwon (the world Taekwondo headquarters in Seoul, South Korea). The school is also affiliated with USA Taekwondo (USAT) and The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) so, in addition to getting quality martial arts training, my son will also have the opportunity to enter the world of sports Taekwondo if his so desires. The bum out here, though, is that I am also a Taekwondo master but my son is not taking lessons from me. I don't have my own dojang (training hall) so finding a place to teach him is difficult. Also, I wouldn't have any other students and having other kids in his age-based class does help. It's a martial arts tradition, though, for a father who studies martial arts to pass his martial arts down to his children. It's a tradition, since I got my first degree black belt in 1989, I'd hoped to continue. My father didn't study martial arts so it's also a tradition I'd hoped and planned to start with my family. It was also one of my goals and dreams. Like I said, I'm overjoyed that my son is doing Taekwondo and that he's doing it where he is - there are few other places I'd prefer for him to go - but it is heartbreaking that it's not with me. A time may come when I am his teacher but, having gone through dojang changes myself, it's not the same. I've trained under many masters but I will always consider myself the student of Grandmaster Kwang Jae Lee, my first Taekwondo teacher and the one who awarded me my first degree black belt.
9. 100 and 101 wins. Of the many hats I wear, being a volleyball coach is one of my favourites. I enjoy sports and I enjoy developing athletes and, having just conpleted my thirteenth season (over four programs) coaching volleyball, I like to think I have an idea of what needs to get done on the court. Due to personnel turnover (we graduated eleven out of fourteen of the 2012 varsity squad) and other personal issues with players, the 2013 season was a struggle but it was nice to finish the second half of the season strongly and, in doing so, I earned my 100th and 101st career wins. This really is a small accomplishment when you consider other coaches have wins in the 500s and some coaches have reached 100 in less time than I did but it's still a milestone and athletes are always looking for them. It feels good, though, to have joined the century club so it's made this list of my ten most memorable or impacting events of 2013. Maybe I'll get to 200 in less than the next thirteen seasons.
10. The Collective. I'm referring to Don Lee's novel. It came out in 2012 but I didn't get to read it until this year and, boy, what a read it is. I don't think it got rave reviews publicly but, for me, it's probably my favourite and, perhaps, the best book I read in 2013. Rarely has a book tugged at me mentally and emotionally as this one did and, rarely, has a book made me cry. I cried in parts when I read Sung J.Woo's Everything Asian and, as a father, how could I not have cried during parts of The Road but Don's book just hit me at the core. I related so much with both male protags and, as an Asian American writer trying to produce meaningful work and find significance in the Asian American writing community and significance within himself, through his work, it was like The Collective was written for me and about me. When I emailed Don and shared my brief review with him, he thanked me. HE THANKED ME! What an honor He said that my response to his book was what he was hoping to elicit from its readers. If you're an writer, especially an Asian American one, you have to read this book. Click here for Don's site.
Honourable Mentions: I could probably find numerous events to put on this list but it would turn from a Top Ten to Top 100 and just become ridiculous. There are two other things that happened in 2013 that stand out for me that are worth mentioning, however. 1: I was featured in an article (click here) with other writers, about self-published Asian American authors in Hyphen Magazine and 2: I made a nice connection with YA author Alex London (Proxy). I wrote a review about Proxy (click here) and shared it with him. After that, we exchanged a few emails and he's agreed to look at my current manuscript. Incidentally, he sequel to Proxy, Guardian, is coming out next spring. Click here for Alex's site.
So, that was my year of memorable moments of 2013. For 2014, there will be new ones; hopefully progressing my writing career and hopefully all positive. Congratulations to all of you on your accomplishments of the past year and good luck in the next. Happy writing, happy living and happy new year!