Creative Nonfiction Contest Editorial
This summer, as I pivot from gig to gig, frequently making haphazard life choices that baffle those who love me, I often think of my ancestors and if they’d have approved. Are they rising, zombie-eyed, from the Chinese underworld and ready to offer up a deadly tongue-lashing? Would they have understood what it means to take on the role of writer in Canada? To talk-story in a language that is not my own, but is now the only tongue that I can speak? If they knew their descendants wouldn’t amass abundant wealth, would they still have made the grueling trek from Guangdong Province to Hong Kong to Vancouver?
Finely spun, taut, and exquisitely written, “Silkworms” explores what it means to communicate with our ancestors; it is a complex, careful excavation of the bountiful ties between diasporic generations. “She [your grandmother] is a good writer,” the narrator’s father cryptically offers to the narrator one day. It is only later when a document is translated from Korean, that the narrator learns about the grandmother. She was, indeed, a writer. In addition to being a single mother of four, the grandmother was someone who participated in sericulture, the cultivation of silkworms for their silk.
What stuck me in particular about the winning piece was its careful balancing act: past, present, and the future are juxtaposed with masterful finesse. The emotional weaving together of intergenerational trauma and the narrator’s present life of being a mother of three young children is meditative and striking. To imagine larvae being boiled alive for their silk, soundlessly screaming in the throes of death, perfectly captures the grief of surviving daily life in the pandemic. It is a brilliant metaphor.
Like the caterpillars that the narrator finds one summer and raises into monarch butterflies, readers too, undergo a freeing metamorphosis at the essay’s conclusion. Before their transformation, the narrator writes: “The caterpillars are getting ready to pupate now. Spinning silk to latch themselves on to the ceiling of their habitat and slowly bringing themselves to hang headdown. And they finally begin to settle and completely still, my mind follows. Reminding me that there is breath still inside of me, and that is enough.” Sometimes, merely existing is more than enough.
Talking-story to our ancestors is how we honour them.
— Lindsay Wong 2022 CNF Contest Judge