“Come to me, squeeze my hand, know my loneliness,
and give me the love, the strength to prevail
on the perilous road before me.”
Amidst the deadliest portion of the Vietnam War, a young woman, Dang Thuy Tram, leaves her family behind in Hanoi and sets off to work in a field hospital. As a recently trained doctor she is tasked with treating civilians and soldiers alike as fierce guerrilla battles occur day in and day out within the foliage nearby.
For comfort, she writes in her diary. She records her patient encounters, friends who have been killed in the fighting, her longing for a man she calls M., and her dreams.
These wartime recollections were rescued when, at war’s end, American soldiers were burning documents. A Vietnamese translator got hold of Thuy’s diary and proclaimed, “Don’t burn this one, it has fire in it already.”
Breaking protocol, an American officer preserved the diary and kept it for 35 years, eventually delivering it into the hands of Thuy’s mother. It was later published in Vietnam and then translated into English by Andrew X. Pham.
Last Night I Dreamed of Peace is the parting gift from an unlikely heroine, killed at 27. Her voice lives on to help generations to come remember that compassion and dignity can persist in the face of the atrocities of war.
“Half of our heart is filled with red blood, half with black. In our mind there is also a balance between the bright, intelligent and beautiful facets and the dark, negative, and cowardly parts. If I can grasp that in its entirety, then I can achieve tranquility and stability in this life.”
First off, don’t skip the introduction! This bit of text penned by Frances Fitzgerald (author of Fire in the Lake) is excellent and offers insightful observations about the book’s meaning, history and origins. I don’t know a ton about the Vietnam War and the introduction helped to place Thuy’s writing into the larger narrative of world conflicts.
The fact that the book is a diary, the interior monologue of a young woman enduring the realities of war, is what drew me to it. (Anyone else read Anne Frank as a kid and become obsessed with the war diary genre?) And a new doctor, no less! Throughout the book she talks of caring for wounded Viet Cong soldiers below the 17th parallel that divided Vietnam into North and South. Her life is often in danger as the American “enemy” and guerrillas wage war mere paces from her makeshift field hospitals.
There’s also an element of romance to her life’s tale as she followed a man from back home into this service. She talks of “M.” frequently in the pages of the diary. Unfortunately, they have both become so committed to their duties that striking things back up seems nearly impossible. Thuy mourns the loss of what could have been.
Given her proximity to the violent, bloody, gory scenes of war, it’s interesting to note that descriptions of such things are limited. But of course, Thuy is a physician, not a soldier. This means grappling with the aftermath, putting the pieces back together that war tore apart.
In translation, her writing is extremely lyrical. Less an account of what’s happening and more poetic perceptions and ponderings — about the damages of war, firm communist beliefs, relationships with the people she meets in the clinic, and sometimes their deaths too. This style, along with the repetitiveness of Thuy’s thoughts, could definitely be off-putting to some. But at the end of the day, she’s a woman in her 20’s who can’t figure out which dude she’s in love with! She’s the epitome of “in her feelings.” Add war to that emotional hotbox and I think I can excuse the fact that she often wants to discuss pining for men rather than the AK-47 wounds she sewed up earlier that day.
Finally, reading Thuy’s wartime recollections as an American is a thought-provoking exercise in seeing the “enemy” as human. It’s easy to relate to a person when they lay their hopes and fears bare on a page. Reading that she dreamed of peace hopefully serves as a reminder, that death as a result of war is always a tragedy, regardless of sides.
Read this if you’re interested in: the Vietnam War, medical history, women physicians, wartime diaries
Hi friends! As promised, today I’m going to fill you in on my recent trip to Los Angeles. In celebration of his birthday, my dear friend Adam asked if I would like to spend a few days in L.A. culminating in a Venice Beach birthday party. Of course I jumped at the chance! It was a wonderful excuse to spend time with him (we haven’t lived in the same city since college!) and see some of our other friends who call the West Coast home.
Lately, I’ve been really into reading diary-style blog posts (“I did this…and then we did this…”) so I decided to try that out for this post. I actually typed this up straight from my personal travel journal! Let me know if you like this method. Here we go —
After a morning of work, I Ubered to MIA with plenty of time for a leisurely, non-rushed experience. I boughtWhite Fur by Jardine Libaireat the airport Books & Books, grabbed a turkey bagel from Einstein’s, and ate while listening to Britney’s Gram: The Podcast. I nabbed some snacks for the flight. The flight to L.A. was 6 hours. On the plane, I read a few chapters from my new book and then watched The Glass Castle and Girls Trip. Long flights by yourself are kind of a treat (as long as you don’t have a man-spreader next to you), aren’t they? I landed at 8:30pm pt and met up with Adam, whose plane had also just arrived–no easy feat as LAX is huge. Colby picked us up and we stayed up (too) late talking. I had a couple glasses of red wine because California.
Not a great night of sleep (damn you time changes!) but I woke up ready to tackle the day, after some coffee of course. Adam and I went to M Cafe (a vegan spot in the neighborhood) and split a breakfast burrito and avocado toast before walking around West Hollywood for a bit. We planned out the rest of our day and decided to walk to The Original Farmer’s Market.
It’s a long walk but mostly through cute neighborhoods. We saw lots of bungalows (totally my vibe!) and kids dressed up for Purim. Once at the market, we walked around the stalls. The sticker stall was a clear favorite for me and I couldn’t resist buying a few sheets. (I mean who can resist ALPACA stickers?!) We also lingered in the stalls selling incense and essential oils. Free smells! There were a ton of food options but I settled on Loteria Grill and ordered huevos rancheros with warm corn tortillas. Then we stumbled into a fruit stall that smelled even more amazing than all those hippy-oils and bought some mangoes. There was a Zara nearby so we popped in for a quick browse. I ended up buying a marigold cardigan and justified the purchase because L.A. was much colder than I had planned and I needed an extra layer.
We then took an Uber to Colby’s apartment; our driver played old school hip-hop the whole way and it seemed like the perfect soundtrack to the passing scenery. Since we’d been walking all morning, we relaxed for about an hour at Colby’s before heading out to Runyon Canyon. We hiked a large loop which took us along a ridge with beautiful views of Downtown L.A. on one side and the Hollywood sign on the other.
We stopped at various benches to take in the landscape and take pictures, and chatted the whole way. I took a water from the “honor system” cooler on the way out, paying a dollar via Venmo. (Technology!)
From there, we made our way down to Hollywood Blvd, by way of Muji (my obsession), and saw the star clad side walk. Then we walked the red carpet (!) which was already set up for Sunday’s Oscars – just with a bit of plastic on top. It was fun to get a behind-the-scenes look. We also found another view of the Hollywood sign, saw more stars, and the apartment building from Pretty Woman.
After another chill sesh at Colby’s, we decided to call it a night after a quick pop-in dinner at Village Idiot.
I woke up quite early and read White Fur for a bit. Adam and I decided we both needed to do a little work to wrap up the week so we headed to Coffee for Sasquatch. This was the rainiest day (rain in LA?!) of the trip and the coffee shop was a cozy place to spend the morning.
After a little work we took an Uber to downtown L.A. to spend a few hours at The Last Bookstore. Adam’s birthday was the following day and he has a tradition of treating himself to a stack of books each year. I abstained from purchasing my own stack as it wasn’t my birthday but, honestly it had more to do with my one bag travel situation.
Still raining, we darted a few blocks to Bäco Mercat. Our meal here was definitely a highlight of the whole trip. Highly recommend! We split caramelized cauliflower to start and I had The Fava Fritter. So good! Adam grabbed a post-meal espresso at Tilt
and we took a hilarious Uber pool back to West Hollywood. (Hilarious because Adam and I know each other well enough that we can speak without needing to speak…and our car companions needed to be spoken about. Let’s just say I spent a portion of the ride staring out the window with tears coming down my face because I was trying so hard not to laugh!)
From there, we drove to Dan’s house in a borrowed mini cooper. The first half of the drive was stunning as we navigated through the Hollywood Hills in the rainy weather with jazz playing on the radio. Dan and his wife Samantha gave us a tour of their house and we spent some time visiting. Then we headed to a couple grocery stores to buy supplies for Adam’s party. Back at the house, we met Dan’s 2.5 year old daughter, Olivia.
Finally, we met up with Maggie at Los Feliz Theater (Recommend! Only $9.50 for a ticket and super charming!) and saw Red Sparrow. I snuck in a burrito bowl from Tacos Tu Madrewhich is right next door. Sorry, not sorry.
Birthday party day! Adam and I returned to M Cafe – I had oatmeal with berries and a juice (with lots of turmeric!). We ran up the street to a Trader Joe’s to get last minute supplies – water, snacks, beer – for the party. We drove to Venice Beach and dropped stuff off at Dylan’s apartment, the party locale. His place has an adjoining beachy courtyard strung with fairy lights, complete with picnic table and fire-pit. The three of us walked the boardwalk and got cold brew at a cute place nearby with outside seating (I don’t recall the name).
Party guests started to arrive, including Dan who was making all the yummy food, and Stephanie, who I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years. I also got to meet Colby’s boyfriend who had been at work when we hung out on Thursday. We dined on bean-burger sliders with coleslaw and homemade bbq sauce, tempeh kebabs, and chips with hummus and homemade salsa. Vegan BBQ-theme on point!! I also bought Adam a 9″ fruit tart from Whole Foods as his “cake” and, although we skipped the candles, we sang a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. We made a fire in the fire-pit, talked, and listened to music.
I woke up at 4:30am and was out the door by 5:15. Made it to LAX without a hitch. Thank goodness for the early morning departure time. Paramedics were randomly resuscitating a woman on one of those metal tables in security and my pre-coffee consumption self was highly confused. She seemed to be ok by the time I made it through. I got a bagel (which I saved to eat on the plane) and coffee (which I immediately downed). On the plane I watched The Battle of the Sexes and hardcore creeped my seat mate’s business because I was convinced he was an air marshal – still no conclusive evidence on that one. I made it back to Miami just after 3pm est. Such a wonderful trip. So glad I got to spend time with Adam for his birthday!
Have you ever been to Los Angeles? What was your favorite part? Do you keep a travel journal with details from your trips? I love having a place to jot down the places I visit and the restaurants I want to remember. Hope you enjoyed this peek into mine!
P.S. Some of these photos were captured by Adam. Thanks boo!
The other night, I watched the documentary “Mortified Nation.” A film about the stage show “Mortified” which, if you haven’t heard of, is basically a platform for adults to share their childhood writings with an audience of strangers. “Mortified Nation” combines performance footage from various shows with details on conception, implementation and production. In the opening scene, a teenager talks about her own private writings in her diary. She discusses this sacred book with reverence and questions; why would ANYONE want to read journal entries out loud to a room full of strangers? And you might be thinking the same thing. Yes, the stories shared by various performers throughout the film were embarrassing but they were also hilarious, deeply relatable and a gentle reminder that no matter who we become, when you get right down to it, we all came from the same place. A childhood where everything that happened was of grave importance when funnelled through a limited life experience.
After reading “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth,” this documentary really resonated with me both as a reminder of how we should be relating to teens and the emerging geek chic culture which Robinson discusses. As adults, it is easy to brush off the feelings and worries of children as unimportant. But “Mortified” literally spotlights some of the most important moments in these young lives. The performer embodies the younger version of themselves where first kisses, crushes, hatred were BIG. They grapple with emerging sexuality and conflicts with parents and we can relate. Yet, too often, put a real live teen in front of us with these same struggles and we think “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, kid.” Young adults are starting to celebrate themselves (and the dorky childhoods that begot them) and serving as perfect examples for Robinson’s “quirk theory”–the characteristics that make your life terrible as a teen earn you accolades as an adult. For participants of “Mortified” these accolades are real, quantifiable celebrations like applause and laughter. Unsurprisingly, people go to these shows and leave wanting to participate. They want to share the shame. And I’ll be honest, watching the documentary made me want to do the same.
I’m much too flighty to have ever kept extended written accounts of my life. I’m always jealous of the people who have boxes full of nostalgia hidden under their bed. (The mormons are the best at this, aren’t they? Shout out to y’all!) Unfortunately, I’ve moved a lot and every so often I just get an unquenchable urge to throw shit away. I would also rather tell people my secrets then keep them under lock and key. Even an old online journal, tucked away in a forgotten corner of the internet, is gone. Kept for over four years, it would have made some great “Mortified” fodder. My account of every teenage first has disappeared into the ether of now defunct websites from the early aughts. To be real, thinking about it bums me out…more than it maybe should. Of course, I am me –I should know how I felt during those years (which were BIG years: I lived abroad, went to proms, had a couple boyfriends, got into college, won some speech things…lost my dad) but going back to THE exact moment where the emotions, good or bad, had bubbled up to a boiling point so dire that you had to get them out or risk implosion–is different. And I think it’s ok for those of us who didn’t set out to be great life historians to be a little sad we can’t go back. At least not in the same way our peers can who were and are.
I also wonder what “Mortified” would look like in subsequent generations. Now, more than ever before, we are all curators of a very public scrapbook of our own lives. Key word here being public. The “Mortified” performances are so raw because they ARE those secrets we once thought we would die if anyone uncovered. As one performer noted, “ If you’ve got something you feel like you would kill yourself if people found out, there’s no way you can hold on to that.” The advent of social media has completely turned this on it’s head. We are a culture who shares everything–and our youth are not excluded from this practice. We also adapt our accounts for audience. Admit it, we are all guilty of this. Myself included. When I look back at the online scrapbook I’m creating through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. in say, 10 years; will I see various vignettes of the most important moments in my life? Or will I see the moments I thought others would believe were the most important? The moments which would gain me instant gratification through immediate and public peer approval? Perhaps THIS is the very thing that will mortify us in the future. Only time will tell.
— Do you have embarrassing journals, letters, song lyrics from your past? Would you ever read them to a room full of strangers? If you’re in the mood for a hearty laugh with a shot to the arm of empathy, I wholeheartedly recommend this documentary, which is now streaming on Netflix.
(Picture of my high school via here. I love that it looks like a faded postcard. Embarrassing high school photos via Facebook by way of Rachel and Matt. : )