June 21 is the date of the summer solstice, the day with the longest period of daylight and officially the first day of summer. All due to the tilt of the earth’s axis.
It’s the time of the year when the naked bicyclists pedal through Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, the sweat of their buttocks slowly erasing the body paint there. It’s a celebration of earth, fertility and love.
This year, in addition to all that, June 21 is the date of my book launch party for When the de la Cruz Family Danced. It’s a joint party with the marvelous Wendy Call, author of No Word for Welcome. Wendy and I met as a result of our connection to Hedgebrook, that sublime women’s writing retreat on Whidbey Island where we both were writers-in-residence. For several years we were part of the same writing group. We read each other’s book chapters. We got our agents about the same time. Now, our books are making their debuts this month. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that.
Though my agent was persistent and continually reaffirmed her belief in my book, the rejections nevertheless accumulated, the rows in my results spreadsheet multiplied, and, glum and discouraged, I declared a new goal in my life—to have my book published by the time I turned sixty. Given that I was 57 at the time, I wasn’t giving myself much of a cushion. And yet, here I am, days away from my 58th birthday, which happens to be June 21.
It means I achieved my goal with two years to spare. It also means I’m not far off from being a sexagenarian, which isn’t as sexy as it sounds. The sixties make up the division of the human lifespan known as late adulthood. Even though the threads of gray that stipple my dark hair do not yet show up in photographs, even though wrinkles have yet to insinuate themselves with any real resolve, even though physically, I’m flexible as a rubber band, with muscles wiry from running, biking, yoga, and the occasional set of bicep curls, there’s no denying the passage of time. Just as there’s no denying the tilt of the earth’s axis and the summer solstice.
In 1953, the year I was born, June 21 fell on a Sunday. It was the third Sunday in June—Father’s Day. I can’t say that my father and I were close. (I knew him as someone reticent and disinclined to displays of emotion.) But I do like to think that this coincidence of dates has some sort of significance. After all, it was my father who inspired the idea for my novel.
It started as an assignment for a class I was taking in the University of Washington Extension Writer’s Program. My teacher was Seattle’s iconic Rebecca Brown. “Write the first chapter of your novel,” Rebecca directed us. Up to that point I’d written no more than three stories and had no intention of writing a novel. Maybe Rebecca didn’t intend for us to write one either. Maybe she just wanted us to think about how a novel might open and where it could lead. I began my assignment at SeaTac airport while I waited for a flight to take me to San Diego for my father’s funeral.
I know as I write this people will think that the book is about my father or my family or me. It’s not. But the story started with questions about my father’s life. I knew only the basics—that he had grown up in a small town in the Philippines, that as a teenager during the Japanese occupation he had participated in some small actions to assist guerilla forces, that after the war his father had signed him up for the U.S. Navy and set him on the path to a life in America.
I don’t know if my father had been a happy man. I don’t know what kind of dreams he’d had, what regrets he suffered, or what small moments of joy made him consider the possibility of a god. These are the questions I asked about a character who without reflection or deliberation ended up leaving his homeland and learning how to call another country his own.
Though the book is not about my father, I do owe its genesis to him. If you open the book, you’ll see that it is dedicated to my father, Jose Tiongkiao Miscolta.
If you’re in Seattle on June 21, Wendy Call and I invite you to celebrate the publication of our books, the summer solstice, perseverance, luck, and the inevitable approach of late adulthood.