wherever you are

What do you do? What do you want to do?

If you’d have asked me that question in college, I’d have given you a blank stare. I loved to write and read; Dr. Haluska’s were my favorite classes. I was decent at editing, I knew, and okay at writing. There is always room to improve, though, and how many people actually make it as authors?

In short: I had no idea.

I got lucky, though, and landed a copy-writing internship straight out of college. It was at a publishing company, and it was here that my first job was born. I was good at what I did, and my editors loved me. But that didn’t mean I wanted to be a copy writer forever . . .

After a year and a half, I returned home to California where I worked as an ophthalmology tech, a job I hated but desperately needed. Shortly thereafter, I received the opportunity to teach in Asia — first in Taiwan and then in Hong Kong. Those experiences changed my world, and most days I long to go back. It’s been freelance writing and teaching and tech writing since then, however, and I must say: I’m grateful for each one. My “career” thus far has given me insight into far more walks of life than many can claim — and that’s a good thing.

ladder5Why? you might ask, to which I’d reply, Why not? How could it possibly be bad to be able to relate to more people around you?

Not only that, good can be done everywhere. I still think of little *Lacy, in whose classroom I was an assistant last year. She’s a big second grader now, and I wonder, Does she remember me? I miss her little-girl giggle and grin. Working with people who’ve only been around just a very few years is one of the best things I ever did. These days, at the Water Agency, I help facilitate public projects aimed at helping the greater good. Pictured in this post are before and after photos of a dam the water agency built last summer to protect fish in the Russian River. People aren’t the only ones being affected by California’s historic drought.

And it all leads me to believe that whoever you are, and wherever you are, you can make a difference. You don’t have to be in a service job to help others. You don’t have to give all of your time and money to charity (although doing so never a bad thing). You don’t have to be a pastor or a teacher or have ten titles behind your name to make a difference. Life starts now, not at some distant day in the future when you’ve got everything “all figured out.” And every day counts. Sometimes all it takes is a smile or an encouraging word to turn someone’s day around — including your own.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be a rainbow is somebody else’s cloud. — Maya Angelou

*Name changed


A fishladder!

the true meaning of the holidays


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

staying true to me . . .

san marino italy

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

in the beginning . . .

Taipei 101

Taipei 101

Something old and something new:

My last few posts have catapulted my mind in a million different directions. All of my posts do, actually. It’s just . . .

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on a single string of thoughts. Tangents are everywhere.

Today, then, rather than wax philosophical, I’ve decided to talk history. It occurred to me recently that I’ve never explained how I ended up in Asia in the first place. I’ve also been thinking about starting a weekly section — “Forever Friday” . . . maybe? — and, well, if I do that, why not combine the two?

And so, without further ado, here is the first installment of . . . whatever this is. I hope you approve! Continue reading

beyond the walls

AWIn all the halls
and through the walls
my harried thoughts are singing.
I hear them there
and over there
like finches they are winging.

I think of you,
and you and you,
and, oh, the anguish stinging.
For every time
you seem sublime
I only end up wringing.

And so it is,
I’m only his,
the one who me is flinging.
And so I’ll go
where no one knows
and meet you there in clinging.


“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ― Rumi


Image: Angkor Wat, Cambodia (mine)

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i love . . . me?


Flower girl at about age 4

So, I’m in line at Costco the other day, and I’m watching people, like I always do. I’m seeing them come and go, and talk and laugh, and argue, and yell at their kids, and hit their brother or sister, and talk on their cell phone, and stand quietly, and I’m wondering, Do I really love these people?

And I’m realizing: Yes, I do.

And then I’m wondering, But, if I love them, why is it so hard . . . ?

I have never been the “cool kid.” In grade school, I wore thick glasses that made my eyes appear twice their normal size. (I am extremely far-sighted.) I wore pink and purple matching outfits covered in kittens. I put bows in my hair and was incredulous when, at 11 or 12, my friends started wearing training bras and shaving their legs. Aren’t we too young for that? I hissed. Continue reading

what the world needs


All of the inspiration I need is in the stars.

I went running tonight, as usual. It’s been too hot to run during the day recently, and I like running beneath the stars best, anyway.

If there is one area in which Taiwan does not not compare to Northern California, it is the night sky. The humidity in Taiwan and, in many places, the smog and bright lights, make star-gazing an almost impossible dream.

In Northern California, on a moonless night, they’re all you see.

But I was worried, tonight, that I hadn’t been clear in my last post. You see, although I loved Taiwan, it would be a lie to say that I loved every minute I was there. Continue reading