Ten Things I Realize I Left Out of My Spiritual Travel Memoir (Upon Revisiting a Few Old Journals)
July 14, 2021 § 5 Comments
By Anne Liu Kellor
- Did I emphasize enough how much I felt like a failure leaving China, leaving jobs, leaving my boyfriend, leaving my studies of Chinese, not accomplishing anything tangible, except to realize how weak I was? No. But on some level, that became the point of my book: not a triumph in accomplishment, but a triumph in being able to realize my own essence and needs.
- Heart Radical was always a memoir, but for years I thought it had to be more informative, investigative, researched, male, “smart.” It wasn’t enough just to write about my own heart’s travails. I needed to look outward, educate the world about modern China, be an ‘expert’ on something else besides my inner world.
- I used to fantasize about getting a video camera and trekking off alone into the Tibetan countryside. Filming and documenting some remote place. That would be brave! That would be admirable and interesting to others! Instead, over time, I just grew more focused on myself and my life with my boyfriend. I saw this as failure back then. But now I understand why I needed to go in that direction. That doesn’t mean I still don’t criticize myself for being too self-absorbed. I still ask myself all the time how I can widen my circles of inclusion and action; how I can witness both myself and others, ever more.
- I never learned how to say “spiritual path” in Chinese. And I still struggle to explain what I mean by that in English. Figuring this out too, was a part of the point of the book.
- I didn’t include how I used to say things to my boyfriend like, Shangdi hui bangzhu ni: God will help you. I was more comfortable using the word God then than I am now (even though I still am okay with the word, in the right contexts). That is one benefit of growing up without religion—I’m not overly allergic or attached to one version of a concept. Because, yes, God is a concept. Just as it’s an experience, an unspeakable knowing, a truth beyond words.
- China is about the least spiritual place I know, I wrote once, something I implied but never directly stated in my book.
- I also used to use the word karma a lot more, as in, I wonder what karma we still have to play out together. It’s not that I don’t believe in karma or fate anymore; I just am more okay with my ambivalence with not naming things as such. Not getting caught up with grand questions of “my life’s destiny.” Just letting the moment, heart-song, unfold. Just letting Intuition, call it God, call it Buddha-nature, guide me forward to the next right choice. Just trying to stay aligned with that same essential desire I had then as I have now: to give with my life, to be more generous and compassionate, even when—or especially when—that means forgiving my own limitations.
- I chose to leave my parents out as much as possible, in part because my mom once point-blank told me not to write about her. But… how do you write a coming-of-age memoir about returning to your mother’s birthplace without writing, at least a little, about your parents? So I did, a little. I tried to be honest and empathetic, yet brief. I’m still scared they will latch on to the few “negative” things I say, and not see how much I am simply trying to understand how I seek what I seek, in part because of how I was raised. How we all are wounded, in our own particular ways, however mild or extreme the wound may appear. And how we pass that down to future generations if we never speak of or address the wounding. I didn’t know I was writing to address core wounds when I first set out; I was too young to see it that way. But of course, the deeper I went into my edits over the years, the more obvious it became that I could not leave out my parents, as much as I tried. For everything is connected.
- Traveling alone in another country where you arrive knowing no one puts you at the mercy of others’ kindness. As such, I saw chance encounters back then as fate. If I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have met X. But if this is so, isn’t it also true that fate is always happening? We just tend to notice it less when we are living our sedentary lives. We think nothing is happening or nothing is going our way, when in fact, everything is happening; gifts or messengers are always appearing, if we are paying attention.
- So you want to be a writer still, I wrote in 2002 near the end of my three years in China. Believe, sister, BELIEVE. Even if it takes you twenty years to publish your book, I might have added too, and laughed at what would have sounded then like hyperbole.
Anne Liu Kellor is a mixed-race Chinese American writer, editor, and teacher based in Seattle. Her essays have appeared in Longreads, Fourth Genre, Witness, New England Review, The Normal School, Literary Mama, and many more. Anne earned her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles, and is the recipient of fellowships from Hedgebrook, Seventh Wave, Jack Straw Writers Program, 4Culture, and Hypatia-in-the-Woods. She teaches writing workshops across the Pacific Northwest and loves to support women writers in finding their voice and community. Praised by Cheryl Strayed as “insightful, riveting, and beautifully written,” Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Longing is her first book. To pre-order or learn more, please visit: anneliukellor.com