I write because—well, this is one of my least favorite ways to start out a sentence. Its reductive, overwrought weightiness, and the implied fixedness, all of this grates at me for some reason. Yet why any individual takes it upon themselves to record their observations (both internal and external), trace out their ever-shifting lines of thought, bare their emotional fragility to the anonymous attention of strangers, or worse yet, friends and family, continues to mystify me. Practically speaking, the reason I write has always been a moving target, and will likely remain so. I suspect this is more or less true for other writers. But the, that is, my reason-for-writing is more akin to a complex organism than a utilitarian means to an end. It just is. I didn’t create it in order to achieve any particular goal or set of goals. Of course, like everyone, I do have goals. But this entity, organism, this reason-for-writing, often has its own agenda. Opaque to me.

To be sure, this organism wouldn’t have thrived if it weren’t for the miracle of public education and public libraries. Fed only a diet of television and billboard ads, it may never have matured and taken over the steering wheel and set course for Wordlandia. After all, things could’ve been different, very different. If my mother hadn’t absconded with baby me from Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually fly toddler me to the United States, it’s highly unlikely I’d be writing this. Perhaps. No way to know, really.

I suppose in many respects life would have been easier growing up a Laotian in Laos (ຄົນລາວໃນປະເທດລາວ). The sense of being but diaspora flotsam washed up on Western shores made for some tricky adolescent and teenage struggles. I’m a believer that it’s our struggles and how we respond to them that make us who we are. In that sense, I have been made and remade a number of times in my life. And honestly, at times I feel an over-edited sentence. Thus speculative fantasies of ຄົນລາວໃນປະເທດລາວ…

When I was a teenager and begrudgingly had to consider my sense of identity as a soon-to-be Laotian-American adult who couldn’t imagine being anything else than a fiction writer, there were no Laotian-American writers to whom I could look to for guidance and inspiration. At least none on my radar. My outsider feelings fortunately found a kindred spirit in Franz Kafka. I read his fiction. I read his diaries. His letter to his father that he never sent. He knew my sense of displacement better than I did. Kafka kept me intellectually and spiritually afloat during some particularly difficult years in my life. It wasn’t until college that I came across Asian-American writers whose work spoke to me the same way. Maxine Hong Kingston and Chang Rae Lee in particular helped focus my thinking on identity. But not once during my time in undergraduate or graduate school, where I studied creative writing, was I introduced to the work of a Laotian-American writer. Not a single one.

True, neither did I seek out fiction by other Laotian-Americans. Perhaps inside me ran a spiel to the tune of: “Laotian-American fiction writers don’t exist, and even if they do, they don’t really matter anyway.” Being a minority within a minority can induce an insidious self-erasure. To be fair, even to this day, I can count Laotian-American fiction writers of significance on one hand.

And so here I am, making a go at this thing called writing. With all the setbacks that inevitably come with adulthood, I often want to just hang it all up and fade into the ambient noise of some open plan office somewhere and concern myself no more with fictional characters and complex social realities and that next blog post about narrative structure or some other concerns of writers. But that fully-developed organism, my reason-for-writing, she threatens to beat the shit out of me. She will because she has. And it’s what we need sometimes, to hold fast to what our experiences can mean by truly attending to them. Hers is my way of doing this. And I write because.