Category Archives: background

the fire in my heart

It may be old news to some, or too distant to matter for others, but for me, the King Fire hits home.

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Placerville is my hometown. Pollock Pines is just up the road. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven past this sign on my way home from Lake Tahoe.

Smoke from the King Fire as seen from Main Street, in Placerville

The King Fire started September 13, just east of Pollock Pines. It is believed to have been started by arson. This picture shows smoke from the fire as seen from Main Street, in Placerville. The smoke has shifted as far as Nevada and, this past Saturday, September 20th, forced officials to cancel Ironman Lake Tahoe just minutes before the race was supposed to begin.

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smoke2(The above two images were taken over Lake Tahoe by Kristoffer Pfalmer. All other images in this post have been taken from the World Wide Web.)

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Nearly 8,000 fire personnel have been fighting the fire since its inception.

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Thus far, the King Fire has consumed more than 93,000 acres (or 145 square miles/375 square kilometers) and destroyed twelve houses and many other small structures. To gain some perspective about how big that really is, take a look at this picture from NASA:

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If that still isn’t registering, take that fire scar and put it on top of San Francisco.

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The devastation this fire is going to leave behind is unbelievable. People keep telling me that, “Isn’t that part of life and nature’s cycle? Fires burn down trees so forests can rebuild.” But my heart hurts when they say such things. A fire started by arson has nothing to do with nature, folks. This is thousands of acres of beautiful — and I emphasize “beautiful” — forest that is being destroyed for no reason and which will take hundreds of years to regrow. It has been propelled by the already dry conditions caused by California’s horrible drought. Much of the drive to Tahoe along Highway 50 will be ash and dust and skeletons of trees for years to come, not to mention the loss of habitat for wildlife.

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And all I can say is, how on earth could someone be so cruel to ignite such a monstrosity? And, thank you, firefighters. Your heroism will not be forgotten.

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when i grow up (or, discouragement)

Teaching in Taiwan

Teaching in Taiwan

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? I mean, really?

I don’t.

I’m thirty years old, and I don’t have a clue. I used to joke that I wished I could get paid to write and read and exercise. Now I wish the same, only I’d add “travel” and “work with kids” to the mix. And you know what kills me? I can do all of these things, and I likely could get paid for them, except . . . Except I don’t have the degree.

Every job description I’ve looked at lately (I’m looking for a new job) requires a CDE or an EDE or a TESL or a PhD or an M.A. or . . .

All I have is a B.A., in English.

And I know from experience that the best way to learn teaching is by teaching (not to mention by caring) . . .

The results of Friday's surgery -- no riding or running for six weeks!

The results of Friday’s surgery — no riding or running for six weeks!

But no one cares about that . . . No one cares at all . . .

No one cares that I’m a talented, passionate, caring individual who just didn’t know at 23 that I would need those degrees. No one cares that I have bills to pay and thus now have no way to obtain those degrees. No one . . .

And so I’m discouraged. Bandaged and discouraged. I know that things turn out in unexpected ways, but, at the moment . . . In the meantime . . . Perhaps I’ll be at your next take-out window. “Ketchup with your fries, mam/sir?”

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fate?

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Writing Camp, Summer 2014

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My favorite professor in college used to tell a story. As a young man, he’d been in a jazz band and then the army. He’d traveled solo around the world, dreamed of being a pilot, gone to flight school. After receiving his pilot’s license, however, he couldn’t find work. Times were desperate; money, scarce. One day, in a moment of frustration, he cried out, “Lord, please . . . What do you want me to do?!”

Five minutes later, he heard a knock on the door. A classmate needed help with an English assignment: Could he . . . ?

Over the next few weeks and months, *Dr. I’s reputation as an English tutor grew. People seemed to be coming out of the woodwork for his help . . . Suddenly, the answer was clear: Dr. I went on to get his masters and, later, doctorate in English and has been teaching and inspiring lives ever since.

I can relate to Dr. I.

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In my classroom in Hong Kong

After college, I thought I wanted to go into journalism. I loved to write, and journalism was a way to write, right? I got a job at a publishing company, and I enjoyed it — sort of.  Deadlines got old quickly. I couldn’t write about things I cared about. My perfectionism killed me. After a year and a half, I quit and moved home to California — and couldn’t find work. I ended up working as an ophthalmology assistant for a year and cried every day on my way to work. I hated it. But it was exactly this set-up that led me to teaching in Taiwan and Hong Kong for three years. And it was exactly that set-up that led me to where I am now — working with kids and loving every minute of it.

You see . . . If people are people, kids are even more so. I don’t care what their nationality, or where they were born, or what kind of food they like, kids are kids. Kids are eager, enthusiastic, curious, open. They’re excitable and impressionable. Kids love to love and be loved. They don’t understand hatred and meanness and bigotry: These are things we teach them.

Over the past two weeks, I had the privilege of teaching a writing camp in the mornings before my regular afternoon classes at an after-school learning center in San Ramon. I only had seven students, but it was an absolute blast to share what I love with those seven eager faces. We wrote stories, created skits, did How-To presentations, and a whole lot more. And even better? The kids loved it. Here is some of what they said about the class:

Wow… I must say, my expectation was far exceeded at writing camp this year . . . I feel like Ms. Jessica taught us so many things and she did it incredibly well. I was able to have fun and learn plenty all at the same time. Her feedback was incredibly honest and I was excited to improve from it. I’ve grown to love writing in only two weeks. Through creativity and imagination, I learned how fun writing can be.

– J, 9th grade

I really liked sharing our stories. At first I didn’t like the idea of reading what I’d written to others, but it got me out of my comfort zone. I’m really proud of myself for actually reading out loud to others.

– D, 9th grade

Writing camp was really fun. Miss Jess was really nice. My favorite part was doing the skit! I learned more about dialogue because I didn’t know much about it before.

– A, 5th grade

What I liked about the summer camp was seeing and making new friends, and of course, the writing. Miss Jessica was really doing her best to help us enjoy writing. I mean, who would’ve known? Writing is fun! . . . Making new friends and meeting friends again — that is fate.

– M, 5th grade

I loved acting and writing in our jornals! I learned what is a metafor and simile. I also liked writing storys and planing the show thingy.

– K, 2nd grade

I liked everything about English. I liked the journal a lot, but the part I liked best was the “How To.” It was fun learning how to do certain things. This is probably the best summer camp I’ve had. If I could, I would redo the last two weeks (including this one)!!

– G, 5th grade

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Miss Jessica, writing teacher. Fate?

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*Name changed for privacy

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outshine the stars

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Riding the Berkeley Hills (Dad, me, and my brother)

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Today is Father’s Day. Well, was. It’s almost over now — 10:30 p.m. here on the West Side.

My dad and brother came to visit us today. We rode our bikes, chatted, got Thai food. Overall, it was a great day — except for my dad and brother who spent more than two hours driving in traffic . . .

But . . .

Hopefully, it was worth it. I made pound cake, which we ate after dinner. Jon had everyone laughing with his stories about growing up in Alabama. And I . . .

Remembered my poem from last Father’s Day, which I’ve decided to post again, here. I hope you don’t mind . . . I hope you enjoy . . .

Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

 

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Let’s dive! (My dad on the right as a little boy.)

Path to Immortality

We start out mere mortals,
’til “Father” turns son.
It’s then our potential
“forever” is won.

We live through our children,
and they on through theirs.
So what will we show them?
How say, “Daddy cares”?

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Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Two kids in a tub.

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It’s here I’m no expert,
but look to the best.
My father’s my hero—
he far passed the rest!

With love and compassion,
through fire and through ice,
he gave with devotion,
and never thought twice:

My dad as a baby with his dad

My dad as a baby with his dad

He did what he had to,
and then he did more.
No matter the duty,
’twas never a chore.

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“Da-ddy. Da-ddy. A spider!” my plea.

From start until finish,
from dawn until dusk,
pushed past human limits,
he still wasn’t brusque . . .

But rather was patient,
and kind without end.
All people who knew him,
his worth did commend.

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“Lo-vely. Lucky!” they always told me.

Swimming in Lake Tahoe when I was a kid

Swimming in Lake Tahoe when I was a kid

But of my dad’s story,
they only knew half.
I wasn’t just lucky:
My dad’s off the graph!

For me and my brother,
he’s always been there.
‘Twas never a question:
“Does our daddy care?”

Love you. Love you. I know that it’s true.

From cycling, to skiing,
to talking in depth,
my father has shaped me,
and that is a breadth!

So Daddy, I thank you,
for all that you are.
You’re no longer mortal:
You outshine the stars.

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Jon, me, and Derek

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Sour cream pound cake — my dad and brother’s favorite. :)

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the post i’ve been avoiding

templeDo you ever struggle, no, not with what to say, but how to say it?

My whole life I’ve been a pleaser. A goodie-goodie. A teacher’s pet. No, not on purpose. I’ve never taken a teacher donuts, but I have always done my best. I studied hard and made good grades. I never partied, even in college. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, and the only piercings I have are single holes in my ears.

I was raised Seventh-day Adventist, and Seventh-day Adventists just didn’t do those things.

The only area in which I’ve ever been a “rebel,” really, has been in my thought patterns. At fourteen I fell in love with a young man who would eventually choose to become a Catholic priest. Talk about challenging your faith. The Adventist church preaches that the Pope is the Antichrist predicted in the Books of Daniel and Revelation. How could an Adventist date someone who was leaning towards such an “abomination”?

. . . But, then again, who decided what books were included in the Bible in the first place?

Randy challenged me to think deeply and hard about what I believed and to not just accept viewpoints that were thrown at me as fact. Although our relationship was, in many ways, extremely painful for both of us, I have no regrets and will always be grateful to him for the vantage point he gave me. In college my questions about my childhood faith were only compounded by a rigid system (I went to a private Adventist university) in which worship and religion were forced and felt fake. I stopped going to church because I no longer saw the point. What was the value of an hour’s sermon on Saturday when all you were doing was preaching to the choir?

And then I went to Taiwan. And then my mind was blown.

Less than two percent of the population in Taiwan is Christian. Most Taiwanese are a combination of Taoist-Buddhist and worship deities and observe traditions that, to a Christian, seem crazy. You burn paper money to pass on to your dead relatives in their next life? Really?

But it was here that I came to understand how greatly my early years shaped everything about the way in which I viewed religion and the world. The Bible is the Word of God, right? There is only one way to salvation — through accepting the name of Christ, right? Right?

avoidBut would I believe the same if I’d been born in Outer Zambooblia? Even the questions I was asking were from an entirely Christian viewpoint!

And that’s when I began to see that God is bigger than religion — He HAS to be. I have good friends in Asia who are wonderful people who know about God but, for cultural and other reasons, will likely never accept Him. According to the teachings of traditional Christianity, this means they are doomed for hell.

I don’t believe that. I can’t. Salvation and access to truth can NOT be dependent on where you were born.

Today, as a blogger, I have readers from all over the world. The pleaser in me is very aware of how everything I say and do might be received by every one of my readers. So you’re an atheist. You’re laughing at me for believing in God at all right now. So you’re a Muslim. You don’t believe in the Bible; your holy book is the Quran. So you’re an Adventist. You’re upset that I’d challenge the wisdom laid down by the founders of the Seventh-day church. So you’re a Catholic. You’re offended that I’d challenge the authority of the universal church.

And all I can say is, “I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry.” I can’t say what you want to hear because I can never please everyone. God knows my heart, and in the end, the most important thing is staying true to is myself.

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Images: TheAtlantic.com and Pinterest

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the stipulation

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“And so what is there to regret if, seeking good, we misjudge and stumble and fall?”

Seeking good.

I don’t often talk religion on my blog — I have too many questions about it (the man-made institution, not God) — but one thing my Christian upbringing impressed upon me is that mankind in inherently evil. We are sinful by nature (thanks, Eve) and must fight our selfish tendencies every day.

This is something I have struggled with. When I see pictures of small children all over the world, “evil” is not the first that comes to my mind. And yet I have seen, too, how my friends have had to teach their children to “share” and “be nice” to others. I myself told my mother I hated her when my little brother was born. I was not even three!

And certainly there is evidence of mankind’s potential for cruelty around us in the world every day. A single glance at the new headlines would indicate that I am crazy for saying “our hearts are good.” How can that be?

And here’s where I think it can. I think it starts early. I think it starts with a choice. Even in the worst possible circumstances, with the worst possible role models, children (we) have the ability to recognize right from wrong. And we have the ability to choose what to do with it. Will we choose what is easiest and what seems to have the most immediate advantages? Or will we choose what our hearts are telling us — “Go! Run! Stop! Do it!” — which may or may not be to our liking?

The minute we choose to stop listening to our hearts, our entire lives can become reason for regret. Because it’s all downhill from there.

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Note: I am taking off for Tennessee tomorrow! Jon and I will packing up his stuff and driving across country, so I may be absent from the blogging world for a short time. I miss you all already!

Image: africanliberty.org

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the only regrettable thing

beachedboat“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”

Oscar Wilde

“What is your biggest regret?”

It’s a question often heard but rarely analyzed. Regret. What is it, really? And how does it affect me? Should it affect me?

I don’t have any regrets. I’m not kidding. As I look back on my life, I see a path of overturned obstacles and a little girl and a young woman. My childhood is over, and my course thus far has brought me to where I am — 30 years old with a love for life that years of heartache have only helped ignite: My passion is stronger because I have seen the “other side.”

I have seen the pain of loneliness and of trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and . . . I’ve seen love come and go, families fall apart, children in streets, cultural seats . . . I’ve seen faraway shores and looked through others’ eyes . . .

(That’s all this world needs, is to look through others’ eyes.)

And the times I’ve misstepped have been the times I’ve learned the most. The year I gave up going to Austria for a boy (we didn’t work out) was the year I met one of my very best friends. (Love you, Gwyn!) I learned a lot from that relationship and am a better person because of it:

My heart smiles when I think of him — and of you.

Because deep down I believe we all have a heart, and that our hearts are good. We may be selfish by nature but can choose how we cultivate our natures. The wise person sees: Selfishness gains nothing; selflessness, everything.

And so what is there to regret if, seeking good, we misjudge and stumble and fall?

The only regrettable thing is when our hearts cry, “Go!” and, silently, we watch, wait, think, wish, say, “No.”

“To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

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For a dear hatted boy.
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Image: Pinterest (Artist: M.C.)

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the world awaits

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In looking for jobs recently, I updated LinkedIn. In updating LinkedIn, I got in touch with old co-workers. In getting in touch with old co-workers, I got a job offer in Taiwan.

And I couldn’t take it.

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while now know how important travel is to me. I’ve often stated how much I miss living in Asia and how I can’t wait to return. My dream job would be to work for a nonprofit organization whose focus is international relief. I want to write to make a difference.

But why is travel so important to me? How can I make others understand? Continue reading

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here’s to thirty

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This girl will always revel in nature… The moon rising behind my apartment the other night.

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I turned thirty today. Wondered where the years have gone. I was never going to be thirty — ever. And here I am.

It’s a good thing, though — getting older. My twenties were good years, but hard. I “shifted” a lot as life changed. (You can see where I’m going with this.) I wrote in a post in 2012 when I was living in Hong Kong: “What I didn’t expect was the identity crisis — some things aren’t supposed to change.” I was referring to being young, to my family always being together, to being alone . . . We get used to things, us humans. We like routine; we form ideas about who we are. Continue reading

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if i could go anywhere

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If I could go anywhere, I would go to Carmel, on the coast of California, in the year 1990. My family would be staying at a small condo by the beach. It would be foggy and misty. I would be six years old, and my mom would be turning 32. We would be there to celebrate her birthday, and I would be laughing and twirling and calling her an old lady.

I would then take my six-year-old self on a trip around the world. I’d stop in Delhi, Dhaka, Beijing, Tokyo . . . Manila, Sydney, Cape Town, Istanbul . . . Bucharest, Athens, Rome, Lisbon . . . Moscow, Santiago, Pell City, Montreal . . . Continue reading

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the book inside my story

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T-Wall — near where I fell

Most people I tell my rock-climbing story are more impressed by my story than I am. Sure, I’ve got scars. There’s a white mark just above my lip that annoys me every day. And?

That’s why it always surprises me, though, when readers suggest I turn my story into a book. After re-reading my story this past January, my friend Vance sent me a message: “So, I just finished rereading your ‘How Not to Die‘ story, and I’m asking myself: How is this not a book? Or, at least, the beginnings of one? It is truly an amazing story, however you take it . . .”

In the past, I’ve always brushed such suggestions off. That’s what I did to Vance. “To be honest, I’ve already written nearly as much as I know to say about my rock-climbing accident. I have no idea how I’d turn it into a book . . .” is what I told him. And that was the truth. In “How to Not Die,” I’ve given the reader everything I can — from my perspective. Continue reading

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the last piece (or, i lied)

Jessica:

Part seven is the last piece of my rock-climbing story. Here, I talk about how my accident still affects me today. Yes, I recovered. But eleven years later, there are still things that remind me of my injury every day.

Originally posted on shift:

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There are things you learn to live with. Things that never cross your mind—until “that time.”

That time when you’re ordering at Starbucks and the barista says: “What was that?” “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” “Are you sick?”

That time when you’re chatting with a friend, and your voice cuts out and cracks, then dies.

That time when you’re calling across a street, and no one hears.

That time when you’re in a noisy restaurant, and you might as well just look into each other’s eyes.

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how to not die: the “real” missing piece

Jessica:

My story from my perspective has been told. But, as I mentioned previously, there is a missing piece: you. In part six, you’ll hear from others who knew me at the time of the fall and how my accident affected them.

Originally posted on shift:

A few posts back, I talked about the missing piece from my rock-climbing story. I was raised Christian and went to small Christian schools all my life, including college. When I had my accident, the entire student body at the university I was attending prayed for me. Both people I knew and people I’d never met watched as I went from nearly dying to fully recovering—a miracle they attested to the power of prayer.

I’ve already talked about how this incident affected me—how I slept through it all and came out an incredibly sick girl on the other side.

But there certainly are spiritual implications to my story. I cannot deny that prayer is what brought me through (it certainly was no power of my own): to say otherwise would be a slap in the face to both God and my dear friends . . .  This is true even…

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how to not die: the road to recovery

Jessica:

In “The Road to Recovery,” I talk about just that: recovery. This is where I found my passion for cycling and scared my mom to death by water-skiing only a few months out after my injury . . . Ha!

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago (on January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is the last part of my story. (To start at the beginning, click here.)

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

8 a.m. Wednesday, March 12

*”Rise and shine, it’s butt-whoopin’ time!”

I opened one eye and squinted at my brother in the light. A goofy grin engulfed his face. With my good arm, I threw a pillow at him. “Where’s my lucky egg?” He ran from the room, laughing.

Moments later, my mom appeared. “Awake?” I nodded. Cradling my right arm with my left, I slipped out from under the covers…

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how to not die: the missing piece

Jessica:

Still reposting my rock-climbing accident story. This is part four, where I talk about something many people are often surprised by — you.

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is part four of my story. (To read parts one, two, or three, click here, here, or here.)

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THE MISSING PIECE

For an audio recording, click here:

There’s a piece of my story that’s missing
the piece that is all about you.
It’s the piece that I’ve struggled the most with
the piece so many assume true.
I recovered from my accident eventually.
My rehab is on the next page.
But what of my soul, of “God‘s purpose”?
What is it that I…

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how to not die: the i.c.u.

Jessica:

For those of you who’ve been following along . . . “The I.C.U.” is part three of my near-death rock-climbing story. This is my favorite of all of the sections and shows most clearly what it is like to be a very very sick patient in the ICU.

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is part three of my story. (To read parts one and two, click here and here.)

THE I.C.U.

4 a.m.

A scream. More of a growl, actually. Arrrr! Arrrr! Arrrrrrrr! The pirate a few rooms down was hallucinating again.

Footstepsechoed off the laminate floor.

Then, silence.

I could hear machines humming. My machines. Whirrrr. Whirrrr. Their green lights glowed in the dark. I pretended they were aliens.

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how to not die: the rescue

Jessica:

A year ago, on the ten-year anniversary of my rock-climbing accident, I decided to write the story of my near-death experience on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. This year, for the sake of my new readers, I’ve decided to repost my story. “The Rescue” is part two . . . If you’ve already read it, I’m sorry! If you haven’t, I hope you enjoy!

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is part two of my story.

THE RESCUE

There were voices. They echoed off the hills and were magnified by the silence. Flashes of light bobbed in the distance. Leaves cracked and branches snapped.

My rescuers were coming.

rescueteam

My rescuers–I’m hidden behind (image: chattanoogan.com)

My friend stood up. “Over here, we’re over here!” He ran in the direction of the voices.

Moments later, helmets with lights bounded onto the scene. The helmets were attached to people wearing jeans and jackets and thick gloves. Apparently, they had work to do.

A helmet with…

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how to not die: the fall

Jessica:

A year ago today, on the ten-year anniversary of my rock-climbing accident, I decided to write the story of my near-death experience on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. This year, I am in Chattanooga on my 11-year anniversary, and I thought that, for the sake of my new readers, I’d repost my story (this may take a few days) . . . If you’ve already read it, I’m sorry! If you haven’t, I hope you enjoy!

Originally posted on shift:

Ten years ago today (January 25, 2003), I fell 80 feet (24 meters) while rock climbing at T-Wall, a popular climbing site in Tennessee. The doctors said I might not live; when I did, they said I’d never be the same again. Today, not only am I “normal,” most people don’t even know this incident ever happened. This is my story.

T-Wall (image: flickr.com)

THE FALL

The sun was falling from the sky. Once it dropped below the hills, all light and warmth would disappear. The clouds were chameleons: yellow and pink and purple. Somewhere a bird twittered.

An icy wind crept into my jacket. I shivered. Beyond the edge of the mountain, a silhouette was standing far below. “Just remember what I said,” it called.

Just remember what he said.

I took a deep breath and leaned back. My harness cut into my jeans. I couldn’t feel…

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cling to hope

Some of you have wondered where I’ve been. I’ve been posting less often, commenting the same . . . Have I given up blogging? Have I given up loving? Am I heartless? Do I not care?

Hardly, friends! Anything but! I do care, and care all the more! It’s just . . . my life has been shifting. To give you a review:

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In December, 2009, I moved to Taiwan. My viewpoints were challenged. My perspectives, changed.

I shifted.

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At Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan

Continue reading

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blessed

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The holidays are a wonderful time. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me. Oh, wait. I guess that was supposed to be Ho-ho-ho! — Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Or was it?

Something that’s always bothered me about the holidays is — no, not the materialism (although that’s part of it) — the focus on self. When I was a copy writer in Chattanooga, I wrote countless articles on depression around the holidays. The media paints Christmas and New Years out to be such a wonderful time of year, but what if it isn’t? What if you’re single and alone? What if your family lives a long way? What if a loved one just died, or money is really, really tight? It’s a well-known fact that shop-lifting rates go up around the holidays.

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A little girl begging at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Around my home, Christmas cards from friends always come rolling in around the holidays. Pictures with smiling faces and new babies and fall colors and fancy scarves beam from the refrigerator door. Sayings like “Blessed!” and “Wishing you and yours happiness throughout the holidays and the coming year” jump out at innocent passersby . . . And, as I look at these clean, painted faces, I wonder: Do they even know? Do they know how blessed they really are? Really? Continue reading

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let us trust (or, happy new year!)

Santa Cruz

Last year, on December 31st, I wrote a post about growth. I talked about the good and the bad that make up the times of our lives. I talked about how we all have a choice: Will we grow and learn from these times, and be generous and grateful for will we have? Or will we . . . Most of you can guess what the opposite reactions to those listed might be.

When I wrote that post and said that I hoped we would choose growth, I was mostly referring to my own growth in Asia during the previous three years. I was remembering the culture shock and the cold showers and the day-to-day isolation and the discomfort and uncertainty that frequently accompanies living in a foreign country. I was remembering how I went from hating my surroundings — to loving them . . . From succumbing to my circumstances — to mastering them. I was talking about the life-altering change to my worldview that I owed entirely to a place I’d previously never ever thought I’d go . . .

Truth be told, I had absolutely no idea what growth would mean for me in the United States, in my home state of California, in the coming year. Continue reading

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the true meaning of the holidays

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My room in Taiwan

Two months after I left for Taiwan, I got a phone call. “Jess, your mom and I have something to tell you . . .” My parents were getting divorced. After nearly 28 years, my mom had made up her mind — it was over.

The conversation wasn’t long. There wasn’t much to say. I couldn’t say I was shocked. I’d seen the disconnect between my parents for years — both of them trying, each in their own way, to bridge the gap. Both of them failing. I’d convinced myself that they were going to make it, knowing, deep down, I was wrong.

After we got off the phone, I sat on my black bedspread and stared at the brightly polished wood floor that I’d scrubbed and scrubbed when I’d first arrived. Outside my window, the dark sky began to rain. I didn’t notice. My mind was empty; my emotions, numb. I wondered, blankly, how my brother would take the news. Continue reading

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staying true to me . . .

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For some, the path has always been clear . . . But not mine!

My parents had a plan. From the time he was a kid, my dad knew he wanted to be a doctor. My mom was fostered into a career as a physical therapist — in high school, she fell in love with gymnastics. She was naturally strong and interested in fitness. Becoming a PT just made sense.

I never knew what I wanted to do. While the rest of my friends fell into paths almost identical to their parents’, I was not a science person. I hated Chemistry and Biology. Give me a literature class any day! And besides, I’d seen how hard my parents worked and what working with people in pain could do. I knew I wanted to help people, just not with their physical health.

Fast forward several years. A college graduate with a B.A. in English, but now what? . . . I’ve held a handful of jobs since I graduated, ranging from being a copywriter, to an ophthalmology technician, to an ESL school teacher (in Taiwan and Hong Kong), and now, to a freelance writer. I’ve been trying to come up with my long-term plan: But what? I’ve wanted to return to Asia: I have this HUGE fear of getting tied down. The world is too big and too beautiful and too full of need to live in one tiny pocket my whole life . . . But. But.

Do I always want to be alone? Continue reading

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walls are for head-banging

elephant

Some days I feel like this — especially when I’m writing poetry!

When I created my blog, it was to share ideas. To share ideas and experiences, and to engage with others — yes, that includes you. I detested blog posts that were simply daily journals or gripes or complaints or even inspirational photos or quotes. To me, those things seemed empty: Unless I know you personally or have established a relationship with you, I don’t want a recap of your day, I want a point. I want something that makes me think, or smile, or that catches my attention in a meaningful way.

The trouble with that line of thinking, though, is that it’s the same kind of thinking that makes me cry when I hear songs like “Message In a Bottle,” which I talked about here. It’s me being “Little Miss Intense,” the one who can’t stand “fluff” and could turn even the silliest situation into an internal philosophical debate. “To bake the cookies, or not to bake the cookies — that is the question.”

. . . Kidding! Continue reading

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kick ‘em when they’re down

red light2Warning: This post contains blood!

The other day I’m out riding my bike. I’ve just left my apartment and am headed left, towards the light. The plan is to turn right onto the main road and hit a few hills. I’ve been missing my bike! Trouble is, the light’s red and there’s a car there, also turning right. I come up slowly behind it, clicked into  my pedals but ready to click out, waiting to see what it does. The car starts to go but then stops, starts again and stops, and (those of you who are cyclists know where this is going) . . . Crash! I’d lost my momentum; I knew I was going to fall, and I did.

I toppled hard to my right, and even on the ground had difficulty getting out of my pedals. My left calf was smarting, but I didn’t pay it any attention. A passenger in a car waiting to turn left beside me had rolled down his window so that I could hear him laughing at me. I ignored him — didn’t look over —  and finally got upright again. The indecisive car had finally moved on and my lane was clear. I peddled on. Continue reading

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