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“The Forward March of Life” by Alena Lin (Singapore)

Issue 4.1          April 2022          

Read the piece here.

Pre-Reading Quick Write

Tradition and memory are heavily intertwined with, and influenced by, our individual and collective identities—the ways in which family, community, culture, and society inform our beliefs and values. As we grow, we develop a sense of agency over our lives; we more actively choose what value systems we hold dear, what lessons we learn—and pass along—from our own upbringing. For five minutes, write about one tradition or memory from your own childhood that is especially meaningful to you. Why does this tradition or memory hold significance? In what ways does it influence your identity and impact you today? Has your understanding of this tradition or memory changed across time? Why or why not?

Before reading “The Forward March of Life,” take a look at your response to this freewrite and consider: What about this prompt, and your response to it, was easy or challenging? What lingering questions do you have, either about the tradition or memory itself, or about the writing process? Does it feel comfortable or uncomfortable to explore this piece of your story on paper, and why? What point of view (e.g. first, second, third) did you use in writing about this experience, and why did that point of view feel useful to you as a writer? Keep your responses to these questions in mind as you read “The Forward March of Life” and think mindfully about the content and craft that Lin employs.


  1. How does this piece of writing make you feel? Share one emotion word that captures the impact of the piece on you as a reader (ex: conflicted, hopeful, compelled). What does Lin do in her writing to conjure this feeling? Point to a specific moment in the piece that carries particular resonance, and consider what about Lin's writing techniques fosters this affect.

  2. Lin uses the second person point of view (POV) throughout this piece, an unusual technique in personal narrative writing. What effect does the use of “you” have on readers throughout the piece? Why might Lin have chosen to use this POV for this piece, specifically? How does the use of this POV impact the content or message of the narrative? How might the piece read differently if written from a first or third person POV?

  3. In what ways does Lin balance the “universal” and the “particular” in this piece? In other words, how does Lin speak to personal experience as well as broad themes such as tradition, memory, mortality, inheritance, and identity, among many others? How does Lin’s description of her personal experience allow us to see the universal in the particular, and/or our own experience reflected in Lin’s? Point to examples of “particulars” and “universals” in the text.

  4. What is your main takeaway from this piece? What resonated with you most as a reader, and why?


Personal narrative: Returning to your freewrite regarding tradition and memory, and considering your reading and discussion of Lin’s piece, reflect on one responsibility that you shoulder, one that you would like to further explore through personal narrative writing. Like Lin’s, this responsibility may intersect with traditions, memories, or experiences from your own childhood, or the people or systems that surround you. Or perhaps this responsibility is more internal, more individual—something that you alone have deemed important, and that you are committed to working towards.

As you write, consider which point of view best suits your story. Try writing a scene in first, second, and third person before picking which POV to use consistently throughout the piece. What impact does point of view have on the content of your work?

Remember to balance universal truths and themes—messages about responsibility, tradition, family—with particular details unique to your experience. And consider, too, how dialogue—internal, external, or remembered—can add texture and nuance to your words. See how Lin braids together the voices of her grandfather and mother, as well as her own internal voice, to offer perspectives and counter-perspectives that deepen the backstory and context of the work, and readers’ understanding of the primary conflict as a result.

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