How I Wrote a CBC Nonfiction Prize Essay

Doretta Lau on why she wrote the essay that is longlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize

I love social media, but I don’t like conflict. The last thing I want is to become entangled in a Tati, James Charles, and Jeffree Star–type mess. I’m not as famous as Jackson Wang, but I hurt just the same.

Two years ago, I sidestepped some social media beef. Long story short: I called a certain poverty tourism project in Hong Kong distasteful on Facebook and got into an argument with an acquaintance. I deleted the post after a few hours because I didn’t feel like fighting but after I got home from yoga the entire episode was still bothering me.

I thought about why I was so angry and pondered what I action I could take to make a positive change. After having some long talks with Maloy and Justina, I sat down to write the essay “At Core We Think They Will Kill Us,” because there was still a lot to sort through and I wanted to organize my thoughts, to open myself up to discovery. Most of all, I wanted to take these changes off social media and into the physical world.

Justina and I applied to volunteer at a food bank in Hong Kong, but we never heard back (likely because our Cantonese isn’t the best) so I started to look into what I could do in Vancouver. Maloy had told me about the soup kitchens that her mom runs in Manila and I chanced upon Enspire Foundation.

Two months later my dad was dying, then he was dead, and I had made arrangements to be in Vancouver. One of my grief projects was to gather people for a soup kitchen organized by Enspire and to donate money for the meals. I’ve since done it several more times, and while it may not change the system, it is better than doing nothing and being angry about injustice.

On Saturday I had the great pleasure to be on a panel at the Fraser Valley Literary Festival with Marita Dachsel, Jonina Kirton, and Danny Ramadan. (I read new poems!) Moderator Shazia Hafiz Ramji asked us about social media and I talked about how I’ve stepped away from political commentary on Twitter for mental health reasons and that I decided to take action within my community instead. I talked briefly about the essay that’s longlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize. Social media is now my go-to place for Jeremy Lin and gymnastics news, plus cat memes. It may not be the most perfect arrangement, but it’s working for me right now as I figure out how I can do better in the world and to engage with other people in a way where we move forward together.

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