Creative Writing Class by Paoze Yang
From Laura Alden's Foul Play at the PTA
I was born twenty-one years ago in Laos. My parents emigrated to Green Bay, Wisconsin when I was young. A Lutheran church was our family’s sponsor. They found my father – a journalist for many years – a job as a janitor while my mother sewed clothes. My sisters and brother and I went to school and studied hard. It was up to us, my mother said, to—
“What’s that?” Mrs. Nielson put her index finger on the small notebook in which I was writing.
“An exercise for my Creative Writing class,” I said, tugging away the notebook and shutting the cover. “Is my time for break done?”
“Nah.” She sat on the stool in the small break room of the Children’s Bookshelf and swung her feet against the bottom rung. “The store’s empty and I’m bored. Are you writing anything fun?”
I studied her. She did not appear to have the carefully casual expression she wore when she was engaging in one of her practical jokes. “We were asked," I said, "to write a short essay on a pivotal moment in our lives.”
Mrs. Nielson nodded. “So you’re writing about coming to this country? Doesn’t get more pivotal than that.”
“That was important, but it was the decision of my parents. I am writing about a decision I made.”
“Let me guess,” Mrs. Nielson said. “It was the day you decided not to wear what normal college kids wear.”
I looked down at my long-sleeved white shirt and dark slacks. “Clothing is not important.”
“Says you.” Mrs. Nielson smoothed the knees of her plaid corduroy knickers. “Okay, you’re writing about deciding to become an English major when you could barely speak the language.”
I sat up straight. “I have spoken English for—”
“Oh, keep your shirt on.” Mrs. Nielson grinned. “I’m just messing with you. You speak English better than most of us natives. A little different, that’s all.”
“Different does not mean incorrect,” I said stiffly.
“Sometimes.” She tried to grab at my notebook again. “So what are you writing about? C’mon, tell Auntie Lois. She won’t tell a soul, I promise.”
Mrs. Nielson would tell everyone in Wisconsin, if it was a good enough story. I shook my head and slid the small notebook into my shirt pocket. If I put it in my back pocket, she might be able to take it without my noticing.
“What, you’re not going to tell? You gotta, Paoze. You can’t leave me hanging like this. You just—”
“Lois, could you please call Mrs. Tolliver?” Mrs. Kennedy walked into the room and started running water into the tea kettle. “Her special order of teddy bears finally showed up. Paoze, when your break is over, could you move that display case out of the front window? And I need some help choosing the next order of graphic novels. Thanks.”
I smiled at Mrs. Neilson and patted my shirt pocket. She would never see the essay, but the end paragraph was already in my thoughts.
Thus, a short advertisement in the Help Wanted portion of the newspaper was a pivotal moment in my life. The owner of the Children’s Bookshelf, Mrs. Kennedy, has made me feel more than welcome; she has made me feel important. This is a good way for people to feel. I hope I can learn to make people feel that way, too.