let’s talk about the weather

(No, seriously!)

I was shocked when I moved to Tennessee as a freshman in college and my mom bought me an umbrella. “It’s summer, Mom,” I protested. California summers are hot and DRY. I did not need an umbrella.

It rained weekly in Chattanooga that summer and fall.

I needed an umbrella.

When winter came, though, I was sure I’d be prepared. I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. We skied in Tahoe when I was a kid; sometimes it snowed at home. I knew about winter.
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My hometown on a wintry day.

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I did not know about winter.

In an era of global warming, pictures like the above are becoming less and less common in my hometown. Most of California rarely sees a daytime high below 40°F (5.5℃); in Chattanooga, though, it’s common. I remember walking across campus that January and marveling that, at noon, I could still see my breath. I learned to wear gloves and scarves and hats in Chattanooga. I’d never really needed them before.
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Ice skating, anyone?

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This year, as a graduate student in Knoxville, I have again been struck by the weather. Although we haven’t had deep snows or sub-zero temperatures like other parts of the nation, we have had some really cold days — days in the low 20s that have frozen lakes and ponds . . . Days that chill you to the bone and require hot cocoa and cuddling by a fire (or, in my case, a heater) . . . Days when, to keep from going stir crazy, you put on six layers of clothing and go for a run to feel alive . . .

I remember really cold winters in Taiwan and Hong Kong, too. There’s something about humidity that penetrates the soul.
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How do you feel about winter? What has your winter looked like so far this year (that is, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere)? What does it typically look like? (Share a picture of your weather if you feel so inclined!)

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. William Shakespeare

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. Henry Adams

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Frozen solid.

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It was 22°F and felt like 12°F (-5.6℃, or -11℃) with a when I took these photos.

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Poor fishies!

(Ironically, while I was drafting this, it warmed up significantly here for a couple of days. I might even ride my bike tomorrow! . . . Of course, when I mentioned this to the lady at the dry cleaners today, she laughed. “Don’ be fooled! ‘Ees jes’ playin’ wid you. Winter ain’ over yet!”

travel, racism, and compassion

(And you thought they weren’t connected . . .)

Shortly after returning to the States in 2012, I wrote a post about people. “No matter where you go, people are people,” I said. “Can you believe that? See, I thought (when I moved to Taipei), that this dark-haired multitude would be somehow different than me. And of course they were: I mean, the things they liked to eat and the way they did their hair—that kind of thing. But when it came down to the REAL stuff, the stuff that makes people people, they were exactly like me . . .”

It was a silly post, really, but it demonstrated well mankind’s similarities. My students were a great example. Children in Taiwan are no different than children here. Kids aren’t born racist or culturally constricted. These are things they learn by example over time.

Now . . . Of course since we adults are so “wise,” we should easily understand this, right? Sadly, this is not always the case. Take, for example, the note I found on my rental car after a run last week.
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Whoa? Really? A piece of trash, huh? Because I put my stuff in the trunk and because of my car? Wow.

I was really put off at first. I’ve never been called “trash” before, and I actually grew up not far from El Dorado Hills. If anyone was “trash” in this situation, it was the person who would leave this kind of note on another person’s car. And yet . . .

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what would cause this person to do such a thing? What insecurities did they have? What pressure were they under? Why would they attempt to build themselves by tearing a complete stranger down? . . . Also, were they looking to rip off my “crappy” car? Nothing about the note made any sense.

As a matter of fact, a LOT of things in the world don’t make any sense. Another pertinent example of this is racism. I can’t comprehend what would cause someone to feel superior to others because of the color of their skin, but it’s an epidemic that’s gripped this nation since its inception. In 1968, not long after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, educator Jane Elliott did an experiment with her white students in Iowa to explain racism. In the space of 15 minutes, she made her brown-eyed children feel superior to those with blue eyes and thus demonstrated the heinous effects of such attitudes. It’s something she’s been trying to explain—and destroy—ever since.

Please watch!!

“We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. White people are the free, and people of color have to be brave. I want this situation to change.” — Jane Elliott

Jane’s life work breaks my heart and brings to light the systematic racism we see in this and many other nations today. It demonstrates how odious racism is and shows white Americans (like me) the truth of white privilege, which never should have existed in the first place. After all, as Jane so rightly says, there’s only one race: the HUMAN race. (Amen, amen!)

One thing Jane’s experiment doesn’t do, though, is explain what would cause a person to take racism to the next level. Extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have horrified me since I first studied them in grade school, and back then I thought they were a thing of the past. In the segment below, Sarah Silverman interviews Christian Picciolini, a former “skinhead” and reformed white supremacist, who helps explain why people are attracted to these groups and why rallies like the one in Charlottesville happen—and what we should do in response.

Please watch to the end!

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Obviously this interview touches on many things, but what stood out to me most was the dialogue at the end. In response to Sarah’s question, “What advice would you give us?” the very wise and kind Christian says this:

“Because compassion is what changed me, I challenge your audience—go out there and find someone that’s undeserving of your compassion and give it to them. Because I guarantee you that they’re the ones who need it the most.”

Amen! Amen!

happy new year!

I have a whole slew of things to tell you — stories of the last few days, poems I’ve written, thoughts on the past year, hopes for the coming one. But tonight, as I sit waiting for my 2000 Volkswagon Jetta to warm up in the 18-degree economy parking lot at the Nashville Airport, I just want to say thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring. Writing lights up my soul, but you are what light up my writing. I wish you all the best in the coming year and pray that your 2018 dreams and goals (like mine, below) come true!

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:D

the stories we tell

I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. In my childhood church, jewelry and dancing were akin to divorce, and divorce was the doing of the Devil. Imagine my identity crisis, then, when at the age of 26 I learned that my parents were getting a divorce. Divorced? What did that make me? The Devil’s child?

You think I’m kidding; I’m not. My entire identity and foundation were shaken. I now came from a broken home. This was NOT supposed to happen.

The reality is, of course, that 50 percent of marriages in the States end in divorce. My parents’ union was no exception. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and not all marriages last until “death do us part.” I had bought into a lie.

Interestingly, I get a similar feeling around the holidays. Christmas and New Years are surrounded by so much hype. We have this idea about what they’re supposed to look like — with presents and snowflakes and family and laughter — but the reality is often much darker. For many people Christmas means debt and loneliness and sadness and depression. Suicide attempts increase around the holidays. I myself struggle to feel excited about Christmas every year.

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Why? you might ask. Why not? My life looks nothing like the Hallmark movies or anything it’s supposed to. Why wouldn’t I feel sad?

But perhaps the bigger question is: Why did I buy into those Hollywood narratives? Where did I get these expectations in the first place?

At our cores, I believe we all seek approval. We all want to love and be loved. We’re idealists born reaching for the stars, and we’re hard-wired to seek meaning and connection. This is what binds us. This is what makes us human . . . But life inevitably lets us down; in one way or another, reality “checks” each of us dreamers.

And that leads me to my next question: Once we know life will let us down, why do we perpetuate these expectations? Why do we continue telling false fairy tales?

I think we do for a few reasons. Fairy tales give us hope, and hope gives us a reason to keep moving. We need superheroes and Hallmark stories to give us something to strive for. We need to believe that things can be better than they are. But, but . . . Do these narratives also do harm? Would it be better if the stories we told were a little more realistic? Accepting my parents’ divorce would have been far easier if I hadn’t believed it meant they shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. Christmas, too, would be a lot easier if the holiday stories we told evoked a sense of normalcy rather than elevated exceptions to “real life.”

Because let’s face it — there is no perfect family. We’re all flawed individuals working through our “stuff,” and family and friend dynamics are never simple. December is a month just like any other. Why would we try to sell it as more?

But I don’t know . . . What do you think? Could we do our life and holiday narratives better? Or are they fine the way they are? What would you change about them if you could?

 

happy haphazard holidays

Well everyone, I suppose I can’t — or at least shouldn’t — put this off any longer. (Actually, I haven’t been putting it off — I’ve been slammed . . .) The time has come to wish you all a happy holiday season. So, Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!! My holiday decor in Tennessee is pretty simple this year; I flew to California this past Monday, so there was no reason to go “all out” 2,000-plus miles away. Still, it’s nice to do something . . .

 

 
In an effort to get into the holiday spirit before leaving Tennessee (it had/has been a rough few weeks), two Friday nights ago I participated in the Tour de Lights Knoxville holiday bike ride. It was a 5-mile loop in downtown Knoxville for which many people decorated their bikes with Christmas lights and garland and dressed up in costumes, etc. It was fun, but it was COLD! It was 29 degrees and my hands were freezing by the time the ride was done. Next year I’ll cheer from the sidelines.

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Since then it’s been a whirlwind. I went to Santa Rosa on Tuesday to see friends and to work in my office, and, last night, before I headed home (to the fam), I went out to see some of the fire damage. It was too dark to take pictures, but the scene was unreal. My heart is broken for the whole community. Here are just a couple pics from a hike I did at a local park the previous day with friends. These don’t even begin to do justice to the extent of the structural damage in the city. Those who lost their homes (there are thousands) are looking at a rough holiday season this year.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve’s Eve) was eventful, too. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say life tough sometimes. (Or, all the time? The jury is still out for debate.)

In any event, I apologize for this haphazard post, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! I’ll touch base again soon!

xoxo,

Jess

 

an everyday hero

A friend of mine from the South used to joke that California was going to fall into the ocean. We “left coasters” couldn’t quite get our priorities straight and were headed toward oblivion.

I learned a lot of other names for my home state from my friend — the “wrong coast” and the “land of fruits and nuts,” to name two — and, after living in the Bay Area for a few years, I have to admit that some of them seem appropriate. There are a lot of crazies in California. And don’t even get me started on politics or the cost of living.

That said, California is still a beautiful state and will always be my “home.” Just as you can’t control the color of your skin, you can’t control where you’re from; California with its wildly good weather, breathtaking scenery, and vibrant diversity is a big part of what has made me, me. Continue reading

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. 😂