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A visit (and lesson) with Phuc Tran

A visit (and lesson) with Phuc Tran

Hi Huskies! It’s been a while since we last talked. I hope exams treated you well, and that you are enjoying the start to a relaxing winter break.

Over November break, my AP Language class was assigned a memoir to read: Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran. Then, during our review period for midterms, Tran virtually visited our class as part of the Grounded in Maine, Connected to the World Speaker Series. Tran discussed his book, his punk rock days, and all other probing questions my peers and I craved the answers to. It was as rewarding and insightful as you can imagine meeting an author to be, and here’s why.

The first question our class asked Tran was regarding the writing process, and how, specifically, he dealt with writer’s block. “It took about a year to finish writing [Sigh, Gone], he said, “and another year to edit.” He delved into the concept that no writing is perfect the first time, and stressed the importance of writing second, third, and as many more drafts as you need. He compared the writing process to climbing a mountain – getting to the top is writing the manuscript, the first draft, but if you want to live to tell the story, you’re going to have to climb down; you’re going to have to edit. 

The next topic that he talked about really struck home with me; how to not set so many expectations for yourself, as so much of our futures are out of our control, and therefore we often get let down by experiences that don’t go as we planned for them to. “I wish I told myself to be more curious, to ask questions if things aren’t going as you wanted them to go,” he shared. I remember that when I got to high school, I was so excited, with so many expectations because my older brother had told me all about his incredible experience. And yet, freshman year sucked, it really did. Thankfully I transferred to Kents Hill and have loved it ever since, but still, it’s the idea that I set these expectations based on what someone else had told me, and I simply upset myself when these expectations weren’t met. To say the least, it felt nice to hear someone tell their own story that connected to mine, and to give the advice I would’ve wanted a few years ago.

During the entire time Tran was talking, I was thinking about what I wanted to ask him. I had so many questions, but I wanted to ask something meaningful, something that I knew I could carry with me. So I asked: If you could teach your book, what would you teach, what would you want your students to take away from your writing?

 “I think the big takeaway that I would want any reader to take away, especially young people, is that we’re complicated people,” he answered. He then dove into this philosophy, that “we can contain multitudes,” a quote from Walt Whitman. He emphasized that this idea is especially true in the modern age of social media, where we portray ourselves 2D, literally and figuratively. We only show one side of ourselves, when in fact we’re complex beings. This answer stayed with me for a long time as someone who wishes to pursue media studies in college. How do we portray ourselves as complex beings in a digital world? Perhaps we can’t. Perhaps we simply must be more present and 3D as possible. 

So, if I were take three things away from his visit, it would be these: 

  1. Writing isn’t perfect the first go-around. It takes time, it takes drafts, it takes editing.
  2. Live in the moment, and avoid setting expectations for things you can’t control.
  3. We’re all complicated – the internet is extremely flat, and it doesn’t do humans justice. We must strive to present ourselves as a whole when given the opportunity.