Ten things to do when you get an invitation to The White House for a celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage:
1. Stare in disbelief at the invite -- surely this was meant for someone else with the same name. Then fiercely debate if you should go to The White House or attend a work conference you've already said you'll go to (I know, really?).
2. Call your levelheaded publisher in an adrenaline-heightened, half-hallucinatory state to ask what to do. Then email your board chair and publisher (yes, again) in same state to confirm the decision to go was the right choice to make.
3. RSVP with your and your publisher's personal information required for security, then spend the next 4-5 days worrying that you've just enabled someone to liquidate all of your assets in some kind of ridiculous White House invitation hoax.
4. Shop all weekend to find an appropriate dress to wear while conducting an interesting sociological experiment on how salespeople react differently to your answer regarding the occasion for which you're dressing (from wide-eyed disbelief and steering you towards very decidedly un-White House-looking dresses, to charming "oh!" exclamations and picking out a nice range of summer dresses). Fiercely debate the validity of buying dresses at prices you've never paid for any piece of clothing, or a whole wardrobe, for that matter. Return home empty-handed after logging more than 15 retailing hours, only to make the decision that one of the dresses you already have will be perfectly fine (as others have said, repeatedly).
5. Arrive in DC and attend a couple events -- the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD) convention and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) leader briefing -- trying hard to pay attention to the people of front of you while visions of the President are dancing in your head.
6. After going through several lines and checkpoints, make your White House entrance, strategically chat with one of the military guards to ask where President Obama will stand, race to the food tables and eat so quickly even Kobayashi would gag, interrupt John Cho while he's getting food to get all groupie on him and start the endless waves of fans running over to get a picture with him, too, then stake your place at a table next to the pre-determined speech area and remember what it feels like to show up at live music shows an hour before doors open to be the first to camp out in front of the stage.
7. Calmly run over when "The Rope" is placed around the speech area, end up having a most fascinating and fun discussion with the person standing next to you, and feel better seeing that people of all sorts of experience and status within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community lose their cool pre-presidential speech time.
8. Focus hard on what the president says in his speech without being too distracted by the people trying to get their picture taken in front of him, and leverage your above-average height and trained planting skills to keep your place two back from the rope (see top of head at about 11 o'clock from back of Obama's head, behind the woman with the black-and-white dress).
9. Brace yourself as the crowd surges from behind and around you when the President finishes his speech and walks over to meet people, and boldly stick your hand out over the heads in front of you and in front of those behind you as he comes closer, because this is The Moment You've Been Waiting For.
10. Shake hands with Obama and say, "Thank you, Mr. President," then walk away extremely elated, convinced that you made eye contact and that he will remember you, at least for the next minute until he takes off to do other presidential things. Then consider how long you can get away without washing your right hand before it becomes inexcusable, even for this caliber of reason. Retain some sense of dignity for this thinking by deciding against stealing a rich stack of napkins with The White House logo. Rethink the decision every time you feel the need to wipe your hands or have guests over.
Thank you to the WHIAAPI and the generous staff of the Executive Office of the President for making this unique wow moment possible, and to the staff of National CAPACD who hosted me for part of my time in DC.