Ever since I was young, I loved to write. I wrote in several volumes of journals, which I still have in my attic. I made up stories about talking animals and created booklets of poems inspired by pictures I cut out of magazines. I spent my babysitting money on Nancy Drew mysteries and hung out at the county library in our small town of Terra Bella, California, in the Central Valley, because the library was air-conditioned in the summertime. When I went to college, I loved reading Robert Frost, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. I always knew I wanted to go to a creative writing program after college, but I wanted to experience the world and be of service to people before going to graduate school. When I first saw the television commercial for the Peace Corps – the toughest job you’ll ever love – I knew that was the place for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted my last year at the University of California at Davis, but as they say, when one door closes a window opens.
I spent the next two years as a volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I embraced the four tenets of JVC – social justice, community, spirituality, and simple lifestyle. My first year beginning in the fall of 1987 I was a librarian and math tutor at St. Mary’s School, which was a boarding school for Yup’ik Eskimo students at the mission run by the Jesuits in St. Mary’s, Alaska. I learned a lot about the Yup’ik community and experienced the phenomenon of volunteers receiving more than they give. My second year I was a newspaper editor for an organization that helped prisoners in California with legal and medical issues and the organization’s co-founder, who was a Jesuit priest and attorney based in San Francisco. One of the highlights of my second year was participating in a fundraiser where I met Sister Helen Prejean, who worked with Death Row inmates and wrote about her experiences in her book Dead Man Walking.
After the end of my second year of JVC, I drove across country to attend the creative writing program at Syracuse University in upstate New York and be a teaching assistant for the English Department. I met some amazing writers and friends, who are still my writing mentors to this day, and I learned a lot about the craft of writing. I drove across country after receiving my degree and returned to San Francisco. I got a job and got married, which lasted four years.
A few jobs later, I remarried and now live in the East Bay with my husband, two children and dog. I started my first novel in 1997 and will finish the final draft in early 2013. The novel is about the Filipino immigrant farm workers who started the Great Delano Grape Strike of 1965-1966, which honors my parents and our Filipino community in Terra Bella. I plan to return to my second novel, which I started in 2006, in 2013, as well.
And finally, I blog about how it’s never too late to do what you’ve always wanted to do and, quoting George Eliot, it’s never too late to be who you might have been. The Scottish novelist Muriel Spark advises to “be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.” I celebrate 50 and beyond as my prime.