random updates on life

Ahh! It’s been a crazy few weeks.

Since we last talked, I’ve:

  • Visited friends in California and seen the damage from the fires in Santa Rosa. The devastation is unreal. Although tragedies like this happen around the world every day, this one hits particularly close to home for me. It will take years for my old community to rebuild.

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Also, if you’re on facebook, check out this link of the overview of the damage of Coffey Park, a neighborhood I lived near that was completely destroyed by the fire.

  • Surprised my dad by showing up in Sacramento for a fund-raising ride for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which my family was doing in honor of my nephew, Oliver.

(Don’t think I’ve mentioned it on my blog, but my six-month old nephew has cystic fibrosis. This was a surprise to the whole family — no one in our family history on either side has ever had the disease. It’s quite rare and requires both parents to be carriers. It’s really unfortunate and shocking for us all. That said, Oliver has stolen our hearts and is doing well so far!)

Since returning to Tennessee, I’ve:

  • Completed my first ever academic book review (and probably bombed it).
  • Questioned my life decisions and choice of a masters program. (Prayers appreciated!)
  • Attempted to write more poetry and failed miserably. (Not giving up, though. Maybe I should get a masters in poetry so I have more time to work on it?)

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  • Seen my first concert in years (Blind Pilot) and discovered an amazing British guitarist/vocalist, Charlie Cunningham. (Check out his song “In One Out” below.)
  • Decided to move to the UK — lol . . . no, seriously.
  • Become completely fed up with American society as a whole — oh wait, that’s not new.
  • Found out that a college friend my age passed away yesterday at the age of 33. Life is too short, folks. Embrace it  — even the sucky parts.

(More soon!)

apocalypse santa rosa

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Image: New York Times

I awoke yesterday morning to a text from my boss. “I’m evacuated and Jen, too.” It was 5 a.m. California time.

Whaaa? What was  going on?

I opened my work email to find a message from the Water Agency General Manager, Mike Thompson. “Good morning, everyone. I hope you and your families are safe. As you are aware, there are several devastating fires burning in Sonoma County. I know some of our Water Agency family members have already lost their homes . . .”

Oh my God. I was awake now. I logged onto Facebook where my fears were confirmed: My beloved city of Santa Rosa was on fire. I turned to Google for details. The fire had started in the middle of the night in Calistoga, just a few miles northeast of Santa Rosa. With winds of up to 50 mph that evening, the flames had devoured the hillsides and surged to Santa Rosa where they’d leaped over the highway and consumed neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, restaurants, stores . . . Residents were evacuated in the middle of the night with no idea what was going on and no time to spare.

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Image: L.A. Times

I started texting people. Many of my friends lived in the evacuation zone. It quickly became clear that the devastation was unthinkable. T and S’s house was gone. My boss’s home was gone. B’s home was gone. M’s home was gone. A’s parents’ home was gone. My old athletic club was gone. My favorite restaurants were gone. Hotels were gone. Schools were gone. Monuments were gone.

Everything was gone. The entire northeast part of town had been destroyed within a matter of hours, and the fires were still raging.

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The gatehouse where I used to do yoga, TRX, and other fitness classes.


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A couple surveys the remains of their home. (I’ve decided not to post pics of friends’ homes, as the loss is still too fresh and everyone is still reeling.) (Image: New York Times)


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Fountaingrove Golf Course’s clubhouse

Currently I’m in Tennessee, but right now I can think of little else besides the sweet city by the sea that for the last three years has been my home. I am encouraged by the good stories I’ve heard — the people pulling together to save homes; the doctors who’ve treated victims while their own homes were going up in flames; the Water Agency employees who’ve kept the water running; the man who linked ten hoses together to save the animals at Safari West, a wildlife preserve just outside of town. But it’s hard to imagine what life is going to be like for my dear friends who are suddenly facing so much loss. Fires don’t give their victims any warning. They swoop in and take everything in their path — in this case, more than 100,000 acres (total in Northern California) so far. It’s something you don’t think will happen to you; when it does, there are no words.

Please keep Santa Rosa in your thoughts and prayers.

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Before and after shots of neighboroods near Coffey Park, only a mile or so from my old home.


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Image: New York Times

we’re the butt of the joke, and we don’t care

Please watch the videos as they are part of the post!

As a blogger in the United States, it would seem negligent to avoid the topic of the recent shooting in Las Vegas. Everyone wants to voice their opinion on that, right? Well . . .

Those of you who know me know that I don’t like controversy — especially here on my blog. It has taken me a few days to collect my thoughts. If I’m going to approach this topic at all, I’d better have thought things through, right?

This time, however, the more I’ve thought, and the more arguments I’ve heard for and against stricter gun control, the more hopeless I’ve felt. Even when presented with statistics proving the relationship between the growing number of guns and gun-related deaths in the United States, a large percent of the population still feel their rights are being violated if laws are passed to make it harder to obtain guns. Many of these people grew up with guns. Many shot guns in their backyards as kids. Many enjoy hunting. Many want to be able to protect their families if someone ever invades their homes.

Okay, I get that. I do. But what about the other side of the coin?

It occurred to me on a run the other night. I have this bad tendency to run later than I should, and it’s crossed my mind that someone could pull out a gun out and shoot me through their car window at any time. It’s an awareness I’ve grown used to, but it was something of an epiphany when I realized recently that, if I were in Australia, for example, this fear would be unfounded.

But the problem isn’t guns, people say. Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people.

Umm, exactly.

But even if you take away guns, crazy people are still going to kill people. They can use knives, bombs, cars, all kinds of other sh*t.

True. You’re absolutely right. Stricter gun laws won’t keep crazy people from doing crazy things. But, as was illustrated in the video at the beginning, there is no disputing that more guns means more deaths, period. Also, it’s interesting that driving is a “privilege” while owning a gun is a “right,” is it not?

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So what do I propose? I have no idea. I’m just tired of being laughed at. I’ve talked to a number of friends around the world who can’t understand America’s obsession with guns and denial of their harm in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. I also agree with an American friend who referenced The Onion on his facebook page recently.

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“This is an associated cost of the 2nd amendment and the culture that has grown up around it. So far, it seems to be a cost Americans are willing to bear. If that continues to be the case, at some point the calls for prayer, thoughts, and sympathy following yet another tragic incident of mass gun violence begin to ring very hollow indeed.”

I’ll close with a video from Trae Crowder* **, the “Liberal Redneck,” an up-and-coming comedian who’s making a career in Hollywood by playing off of his Southern roots. (I actually hesitate to do so. Studying Rhetoric has increased my awareness of the damage labeling does and the ways in which it perpetuates stereotypes and other negative phenomenons in society. It cannot be denied that stereotypes do exist, however, and Crowder contests pro-gun arguments from a perspective I cannot, as I have never owned a gun and originate from the “left coast,” “wrong coast,” and the “land of fruits and nuts” [a.k.a. California].)

 

*Interestingly, in researching Crowder, I realized he’ll be speaking in downtown Knoxville tonight and tomorrow night. You’d better believe I just bought my ticket. (There are some real benefits to living in a college town!)

**Please note that some may find Crowder’s language offensive. He makes some d*mn good points, though, and while I may not agree with everything he says, I appreciate his perspective.

 

p.s. You’ll only give an angel wings if you’re respectful of others’ perspectives in the comments section. 😂

 

 

 

don’t wait for perfect

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Restarting my blog at the same time I uprooted my life and started graduate school might not’ve been my best idea. Grad school is tough, and culture shock is real, people. (More on that later.) But, as Brandon Stanton said at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville a few days ago, I can’t keep waiting on “perfect.” Cuz perfect ain’t ever going to come!

For those who don’t know, Stanton is the creator of Humans of New York, a powerful photoblog featuring pictures and quotes from people around the world. Stanton started the blog in New York City in 2010 with a simple idea: Take pictures of people around the city; create a “map” of those people and where he photographed them. As the blog progressed, however, Stanton realized the map wasn’t necessary. What drew people to his blog were words.

Stanton started including quotes from the people he photographed, and then interviews. His following got larger as his stories got longer. (Currently it’s at more than 18 million.) He realized his blog’s universal appeal and traveled internationally to more than 20 different countries. He also did several series of interviews — with cancer patients, refugees, military veterans, and more — and from these, raised millions of dollars for cancer research and other charitable causes. Most recently he’s been working on a video series that builds on the same premise and is currently being released weekly on facebook.

Image result for humans of new yorkI started following Stanton’s blog a few years ago. It enticed me with its raw humanity. It clearly displayed everything I’d seen in Asia: No matter where you go, people are people. Stanton himself is also very down-to-earth, which has contributed to his success. During his performance last week, Stanton wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a zip-up hoodie as he shared the beginnings of Humans of New York and how he figured out what he needed to do. “I realized early on I was never going to be the best photographer,” said Stanton. “Humans of New York is not about photography. But what I do have is something many of the world’s best photographers do not — I have the ability to approach and talk to strangers.” (paraphrased)

Stanton shared several other great points that evening, which stood out out to me as applicable to both blogging and life. Here are just a few of them:

  • Don’t wait for perfect. Perfect never comes. Time is our most valuable commodity. If you’re meant to do something, do it now.
  • Don’t worry about your audience. If Brandon had worried about his audience when he started Humans of New York, Humans of New York wouldn’t have come to be–he would have given up long ago because success didn’t happen overnight.
  • Following your dreams means “choosing your work.” “People talk about following their dreams as if following your dreams means avoiding responsibility or getting to play all day,” says Brandon. “But no, pursuing your dream is work. Whether you want to be a famous musician or a well-known blogger or own your own business or travel the world, all of these things take time and dedication and hard work. The difference between it and other work is that you choose it.” (paraphrased)

Brandon’s talk left me in tears. In the past four weeks I’ve started this post at least a dozen times. I’ve had great ideas but “never enough time” to finish them. I’ve had paragraphs written down, but they were never “good enough” to share. I’ve had thoughts whirling around, but they were too fragmented to be “worthy.” It’s true that grad school is demanding, and starting over in a new city hard, but if I am truly going to “begin again”– if I am going to “choose my work” (here on my blog and elsewhere) — something’s gotta give.

So tell me . . . What’s your trick for accomplishing your blogging and/or life goals? Have you seen Humans of New York? What did you think?

 

(Below is just a sample of Stanton’s work.)

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“This better not be for a porno. I stopped doing those.”

“Okay, Mother. That’s enough.”

 

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“I prefer maritime laws to laws on land. Maritime laws only exist to guarantee safe passage. There are no loopholes or biases to favor more powerful vessels. Every ship is equal, and no one is more powerful than the sea.”

 

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“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

*As a side note, this image went viral in 2016 and Stanton ended up raising more than $1,000,000 for this boy’s school. You can read more about that here.

 

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“So do you do a different color every day?”

“No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found I was happiest when I was green, so I’ve been green for 15 years.”

 

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“You want to hear what just happened to me? I was in the subway station, and this man came walking by me. He seemed really angry and was talking gibberish and screaming about how he was going to kill anyone who talked to him. So I thought: ‘That guy’s crazy; I’m gonna keep away from him.’ Then two minutes later another young man walked by and collapsed right in front of me and started having a seizure. I bent down to help him, and you know what happened? The crazy guy bent down and said: ‘He’s having a seizure! Turn him on his side!’ I thought: ‘Wait a second! Weren’t you just crazy?'”

 

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“I want to build a bridge.”

“How do you build a bridge?”

“If you want to build a bridge it’s going to take a long time, and it might be hard because your employees might not be as interested in building the bridge as you are. You have to think about what kind of bridge you want to make. One type of bridge is a suspension bridge and another type of bridge is an arch bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge and it was built by John Roebling and his family, and that’s all I remember from the second grade. And the bridge has to be strong because the water can rise and push up the bridge. I’d maybe like to build a bridge in Wisconsin because there are a lot of people in Wisconsin who might not have bridges, but I don’t really know where Wisconsin is.”

 

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Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans of New York”

 

 

on good friday

good-friday-love-hurtsGood Friday. Bad Friday. Black Friday. Easter Friday.

Whatever you call it, today is Friday, and the Friday before Easter, no less. I must be a bad person because it was only two days ago that I realized this was Easter weekend. Easter is supposed to be in April, right?

But no; no, it’s not. And I am a bad person, or surely you must think so — you who knows all, sees all, thinks all, is all.

(You were my all . . .)

But I . . . I got off track.

Today is Easter Sunday. But what does that mean? For Christians around the world, it’s the day their Savior died, two days before His resurrection. It’s a day of hope, a day of love, a day of sorrow, a day of repentence. What did we do to deserve this?

(Nothing. We did nothing.)

But what of the others, for whom Easter is brunch and bunnies and eggs and chocolates? What of the population for whom it’s Cadberries and marshmallows and pastel dies and little kid messes?  What of those for whom it’s nothing more and nothing less than any other holiday?

And what of the people that don’t celebrate Easter? What of those who’ve never heard of it?

I have to admit, I’m a little distant these days. A little remote. A little confused. The worldview I held as a child doesn’t compute anymore. Where is God, how is He, and Who? I grew up Protestant Christian and truly still believe. But the God I see now is bigger than I imagined — His message not limited by culture or geography. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-ladened. I will give you rest.” “I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you.” “Love God and love others as yourself.”

Be kind, rewind.

It’s all the same, isn’t it? The principles of kindness and courtesy run the gamut across cultures. They are received and returned the same way. And God is bigger than a book, or a church, or a person. God is LOVE, and is there anything larger than that?

 

on new years eve

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New Years in Hong Kong

Where you are, the ball may have already dropped. I know it has for my friends in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But maybe you live in Hawaii, or Alaska, or some other remote place — I don’t know where.

It’s 2015, no, 2016. Hip hip hooray! A new year. But somewhere in there, in between the shiny memories of my youth — when I held my breath and clung to each passing moment; counted eagerly, haltingly, “5… 4… 3…”; when lips were rosy and blushes, plenty — somewhere between innocence and the glaze of adulthood (I’ll be doing laundry tonight — what’s another year?), something got lost.

What happened to the magic? What happened to the nostalgia?

I won’t lie: 2015 has been a tough year. I won’t be sorry to see it go. Unlike many others, however, I don’t place all my hope in what lies ahead. I know that good will come in 2016, and that I am the master of my destiny, but there are things that are out of my control: no new year is all sunshine and roses.

And so I look forward to the new year resolutely. I will make the best of both the good and bad in 2016, and will always make the best decisions that I can. I promise to always be kind — even to myself. I won’t make resolutions I can’t keep but will continue living as I have, making the most of every day. I will learn from and cherish the past, but I won’t live for it; I’ll live for the future. And, most importantly, I will always follow my heart.

it’s not about the flag

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It’s not about the flag. It never has been.

A few weeks ago (a month now, maybe?), Jon and I were lucky enough to receive free passes to a Nascar race at Sonoma Raceway. I say “lucky” because Jon grew up twelve miles from Talladega, in Alabama. Nascar is, at heart, a Southern thing.

It was my first race.

The weather was sunshine; the cars were flash. We didn’t even hit traffic. It was a good day. As we were leaving, though, we saw something . . . unremarkable. Well, it would have been if not for the commotion of the past few weeks.

The United States wants to do away with the Confederate flag. It represents racism and black oppression and all that is wrong with the world. So they say. Many Southerners — rebels, if you will — resent this. The Confederate flag is, to them, a part of their heritage, a piece of their past. It also does not represent racism. It represents their fight to preserve the states’ rights. They also “just like it.” So they say.

Since its beginning, Nascar has been associated with rebellion. The sport originated in the Appalachia with moonshiners and bootleggers during America’s Prohibition. Bootleggers needed fast cars to evade the police and deliver their “shine.” They modified their own for this purpose, and then, suddenly, one day, Daytona was a race as much as a place.

And Confederate flags were everywhere.

I am not a Southerner. I have never flown a Confederate flag. But even out in California (or should I say, especially out in California), I’ve seen them around. And when I’ve seen them, I’ve thought, “Ohhh, boy,” but I’ve never thought their owners were bringing our nation down.

Because, really . . .

Where have all the thinkers gone? What happened to A leads to B leads to C? The Confederate flag didn’t create racism, folks. People created racism. People in their narrow-mindedness created attitudes and perceptions and biases. People who lacked education or misused their education, who lacked love or embraced hate, who could not or would not see the humanity of their fellow man . . .

Yep, folks, racism is about people. The Confederate flag is merely a scapegoat. As such, you can do away with the “Stars and Bars” all you want — nothing is going to change. In fact, things are only going to get worse. In fact, they already have. Did anyone see the story about the former university cop in Cincinnati in the news today?

The only solution to racism is the opposite — acceptance. And love.

What happened to the love?
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The Confederate flag Jon and I saw at Sonoma Raceway.

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