An Authoritative Voice

 Edmonds Bookshop with Mary Kay, 6-14-14If not for George and his authoritative voice, I might be a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language) today instead of a writer. I was more than halfway there. I’d completed all my theoretical classes at Seattle University and most of my practical coursework at their affiliate in Ballard.

I was also well on my way to becoming a published author. I’d earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I’d had a few short stories published.

Now that I was home after a couple of decades accompanying my husband overseas without a work visa of my own, I felt I should have a real job. I liked to write, but writing wasn’t … you know … a real job.

I was conflicted.

Painting courtesy of HikingArtist.com

Painting courtesy of HikingArtist.com

One afternoon I mentioned my situation to George. My husband, Eugene, and I were in Issaquah having a drink with George and his wife in their lovely apartment. Afterward we would have dinner at George’s favorite local restaurant, Shanghai Garden. The chef would come to our table and ask if we wanted something that wasn’t on the menu, and George would suggest a special Dungeness crab dish.

George in red shirt

George in red shirt

George hadn’t lived in Issaquah long, but he already had friends in both high and low places. Making friends and contacts was a natural trait for him and also a habit developed during his early years as a reporter for the South China Morning Post and then as editor for the Asia Magazine.

Giving his scotch a swirl, George turned to me and asked about my writing.

“My writing?” I paused to sip my rum and coke—an indecisive drink if ever there was one … a depressant poured into a stimulant. “I’m thinking of getting a job as an ESL teacher,” I said.

He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. And somehow his one sentence response became a turning point for me.

Why? What gave him such an authoritative voice in my personal decision?

Maybe it was the persuasive timber of his voice. George had been a print journalist, but he had a voice that could have made him just as successful on TV.

It was more than his tone of voice though. His absolute confidence gave him power. George never used words and phrases like “maybe” or “kind of” or “I guess.” He had a way with words, a journalist’s knack for convincing his audience that he knew exactly what he was talking about and that what he had to say was worth listening to.

So when George placed his scotch on the coffee table and paused dramatically before telling me what he thought, his comment was bound to make a deep impression. “Nicki,” he said in his most authoritative voice. “Anyone can be an ESL teacher.” Though I didn’t believe for a minute that just anyone can be a successful ESL teacher, I knew what he meant. He thought I should devote myself to writing.

And George’s words made all the difference. He had an authoritative voice. And besides … those words were exactly what I wanted to hear.

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen
Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She’s working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early ’90s.

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38 comments


  1. So glad George gave you the push you needed! So many times we hear the voice of dissent. Good for George to encourage you in such a powerful way!




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  2. Everyone needs a person like that in their life. Sometimes the fork in the road is a hard decision to make.




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    • I suspect that in most cases, the person whose words made the difference has no idea he/she influenced anyone. I recently heard about a young woman who had the confidence to become a doctor because of something my husband said.




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      • That is true because at the time you have no idea if you are on the right track. After you realize it’s all good. In my case one of my influential people left the area 20 years ago and I have no idea where he is.




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  3. Roberta Oster

    So glad you followed your heart….you ARE a writer….




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  4. Traveller at heart

    Sometimes, one doesn’t need to say much. A careful choice of words are much more effective than a loose tongue.

    My Spanish colleague tried to correct my pronunciation of ‘advertisement’ ; there is the English and American form of pronunciation. Of course, he had a quick look at google.




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    • You can always tell whether someone learned their English from a British or American teacher. When I was in college, my Spanish teacher was from Argentina. I still prefer the Argentine accent.




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  5. Hey thx for this tip about upcoming exhibit. I actually have never been to the Wing Luk Museum. And I’ve been to Seattle at least 10 times over the past 14 yrs.

    I’ll be in Seattle in November. 🙂 Only 1.5 days or so.

    For the longest time, I found some of the kung fu movies just annoying. My father, found them kinda annoying also especially some of the fake special effects. He was more into Chinese opera..

    But then later, I learned more about the long tradition and physicality of kung fu, I began to appreciate it more. And also some general idea on the different schools of kung fu.

    Jacky Chan, HK actor doesn’t know kung fu in that way, but certainly his circus acrobatic training early in life makes it easier to throw in a few kung fu manoeuvres in his films.




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  6. Isn’t it amazing that a simple sentence can change the outcome of your life? When I was forty, I wanted to go to college, but was whining to my close friend, Skippy (a teacher at Pierce College) that I wanted to go full-time, but since I had to work I couldn’t. That if I took night classes I probably wouldn’t finish until I was 50 years old! Quietly she said, “Veda, you will turn 50 if you continue your education or not!” The next day I was a student at Fort Stillacoom College (now Pierce College). And yes, it did take me 7 years to get my AA degree—but I got it!




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    • I love what your friend, Skippy, said, Veda. There were times in my life when I thought it was too late to do something and then realized later it wasn’t that late after all.




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  7. I’ve never heard something implied so authoritatively!

    Implied, stated outright, or merely hinted at…it’s always nice to hear we don’t suck. 🙂




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  8. “Anyone can be an ESL teacher.” From his lips, to God’s ear. We should all be lucky enough to have a George in our life.




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  9. Sometimes we just need for someone to believe in us in order for us to acknowledge what we have known inside all along. I am glad that George gave you the extra push to follow your writing dreams.




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  10. What a beautiful testament to the power of having supportive people behind you as a writer! If it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t be blogging and writing at all. It’s so critical to have that kind of support.

    I’m also really grateful you’re writing, Nicki.




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  11. That one sentence sure changed your life, Nicki. Taking the words of a journalist…these days you can’t be sure if you can trust a journalist given the way most media outlets work. I wonder, did you feel frightened when George said that to you? I’m sure someone else at the table was also listening. But very glad you went down the writer path. I really enjoy reading your blog, and at some point I am going to get your book 🙂




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  12. Glad his words resonated with your dreams, Nicki.




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    • Resonated is a good word. When the right waves come together, they can be exceptionally powerful. I’m reminded of the collapse of the Hood Canal Bridge when the wind’s speed resonated with something in the bridge’s construction.




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  13. Thanks for George you made the right decision. Sometimes it only takes one person to say the correct thing so one can finally gather their courage and just follow their dreams. 🙂




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  14. Loved reading this, Nicki. I think we all have a George in our life that appears at just the right time and says just the right thing to encourage us. Glad you pursued your dream of writing.




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  15. This post is a gem, Nicki. You are so lucky to have had George in your life and your readers benefit from his wisdom as well.




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  16. I am one who is happy he urged you on.




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  17. I like George already! 🙂 He has confidence, which isn’t only attractive, but a place of safety in times of uncertainty. Where does it come from though . . .

    So glad that his voice helped steady your steps. Isn’t that what we all need at the crossroads of our lives?




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    • My guess is that George’s confidence was either inborn or he came by it very early in life. He had a great enthusiasm for life, and he always seemed eager to meet a new person or try something new.




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